Liberian refugees moved inland in Sierra Leone; others stuck on Guinea's border
CONAKRY, Guinea, October 11 (UNHCR) - In the wake of recent fighting in Liberia's upper Lofa county, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been struggling to deal with large groups of Liberian refugees arriving on their doorstep, causing potential tension at the border.
In Sierra Leone, the UN refugee agency has just completed the transfer of over 3,400 Liberians refugees who arrived in the border village of Manduvulahun, Kailahun district, a week ago. The new arrivals have been moved to Largo camp and the Kailahun and Dauda way stations.
UNHCR Sierra Leone is working with limited resources to extend the hosting capacity of newly-created camps like Largo (Kenema district) and Gondama (Bo district), so that refugees currently in way stations can be accommodated in more permanent sites soon.
While tension at the Liberia-Sierra Leone border has eased with a sharp drop in new arrivals, pressure is growing at the Liberia-Guinea border, where Liberians continue crossing into Guinea. About 900 Liberian refugees have arrived in the last week, including 100 on Thursday alone.
Guinea's Tekoulo transit centre, located across from Liberia's Lofa county, has now surpassed its optimum capacity of 500, and refugees are living there in very precarious conditions. About 20 malnourished children have been evacuated to Guéckédou hospital. Some have been camping at the makeshift site for close to two weeks.
Guinean authorities report that refugees continue arriving through the Owet-Kama, Noborodou and Koyama border crossings, near Guéckédou and Macenta, in the so-called "Parrot's Beak" area of Guinea.
For security reasons, the authorities have restricted access to the border areas, because of alleged rebel incursions from Liberia in September and the currently deteriorating situation in Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are only allowed to go up to Tekoulo. Transfers from Tekoulo to the refugee camps in central Guinea have been halted since September 25 due to security concerns. The authorities explained that they feared rebel infiltration into the refugee camps as rebels had been arrested in the district recently.
The UN refugee agency is trying to gain approval from the Guinean authorities to resume the transfer of the most recent arrivals from Tekoulo. Specific security measures are in place to ensure that refugees and luggage are searched before they are allowed to enter the transit centre at Tekoulo. Since August, more than 2,000 refugees from Liberia have been transferred to two of Guinea's camps inland.
The issue of the infiltration of armed elements has been a sensitive one for some months. Due to the occasional presence of uncontrolled armed elements and alleged forced recruitment of refugees as fighters in Kouankan camp, near Macenta, Guinea - where about 33,422 refugees from Liberia are hosted - the humanitarian community has recommended that refugees be relocated to other camps further inland. UNHCR is preparing a plan and budget for this operation, which will only happen if sufficient funds are made available.
So far this year, Guinea has received close to 30,000 Liberian refugees, while more than 60,000 have arrived in Sierra Leone.