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Guinea Update: UNHCR aids fleeing refugees in southern Guinea

Guinea Update: UNHCR aids fleeing refugees in southern Guinea

15 March 2001

UNHCR is rescuing hundreds of refugees who fled the southern Guinean town of Nongoa following rebel attacks in the area last Friday. On Wednesday, UNHCR trucks picked up 200 refugees moving northwards along roads from Nongoa. They were taken to a former camp at Katkama, on the northern edge of the conflict area.

More UNHCR trucks went to the region Thursday to search for vulnerable refugees. Many of those rescued Wednesday appeared exhausted after a nearly weeklong ordeal that began last Friday with a dawn attack on Nongoa, 27 kms west of Guéckédou. An estimated 9,000 refugees were scattered among several settlements around Nongoa at the time of the attack. Many fled into the bush and began heading northwards on foot, often without any of the 30-day rations they had received just a few days earlier. A food distribution has been planned for the refugees from Nongoa and surrounding camps.

Nearly 2,000 refugees have so far arrived in Mongo, north of Nongoa, while 1,500 others have reached Katkama, 30 kms north of Guéckédou. Another 400 new arrivals have reportedly reached Nyaedou camp, 15 kms north of Guéckédou. UNHCR is concerned for the safety of any refugees in Nyaedou, which is located in an insecure area. Refugees in Nyaedou were relocated north to Kountaya at the end of February, and UNHCR has received reports that parts of the camp may have recently been burned. UNHCR staff planned to travel to Nyaedou on Thursday to register any new arrivals before their transfer to nearby Katkama.

An assessment team which travelled to Mongo and Guéckédou earlier this week was told by refugees that the entire population of Nongoa and surrounding camps had fled. Many were reportedly on the way to Mongo. Others may have sought safety at the Nongoa hospital, which is currently serving as a military base. Some 70 refugees who had arrived earlier in Nyaedou told the team that they had travelled there by truck, using food as payment. There were no reports from the refugees of serious harassment along the way. They said they were asked for identification papers at numerous roadblocks manned by the military or civilians. In order to pass without documentation, refugees said they had to pay in cash (approximately 50 U.S. cents) or in kind (1-2 kgs of rice per family). The refugees appeared to be in good condition.

UNHCR expects the number of refugees arriving daily in Katkama to increase to up to 500. Regular convoys to transfer the new arrivals from the insecure Katkama area to a new site in Kountaya, 275 kms north of Guéckédou, will resume on Saturday. The weekend convoy will bring the number of refugees relocated from the strife-torn south to the new camp of Kountaya to nearly 20,000 since the first week of February.

Relocation plans. Although Katkama is located in a relatively insecure area, aid agencies expect to use it as a transfer camp for tens of thousands of refugees remaining in the troubled south-west. UNHCR and its partners are preparing for the relocation of the refugees from the south-west's so-called Parrot's Beak region to safer areas inside Guinea. Many will have to walk out, at least as far as Katkama. Aid stations will be established along the way. In Katkama itself, basic services are being revamped ahead of the pending relocation from the Parrot's Beak, a thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone.

Resumption of aid convoys. Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners hope to resume aid deliveries in the Parrot's Beak region on Monday. The area had been cut off from nearly all assistance since a series of attacks began last September. Aid agencies were finally able to resume some operations in the region in late February, but sporadic security incidents continue to plague the operation. Since aid convoys resumed on February 26, more than 35,000 refugees and displaced Guineans in the Parrot's Beak have received supplies.