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Guinea: attacks drive refugees from camp

Briefing notes

Guinea: attacks drive refugees from camp

3 October 2000

Renewed rebel attacks in south-eastern Guinea at the weekend drove close to 4,000 refugees from the Farmoriah camp (Forécariah Prefecture). The camp was reportedly burned by the attackers early on Saturday morning and a UNHCR warehouse was reportedly looted. Following the attack, the Guinean army deployed troops in the border region. According to UNHCR staff in Forécariah, the army has asked the local population and refugees to vacate the area. There were some 32,000 refugees in Forécariah, mostly from Sierra Leone, before the attacks, but many have left in the past few days.

As of Sunday, some 1,500 refugees had gathered in three regrouping points organised by UNHCR and had been transferred to two camps in Kaliah and Kalako, where they are staying in school buildings. Food distribution, which was due to take place this week in the area, was put on hold pending an improvement in the safety conditions there. Fighting could still be heard in the Farmoriah region until yesterday (Monday). A day after the attacks, President Conté in his annual speech celebrating the independence of Guinea (2 October) alleged that the refugees' presence caused crime, arms and drug smuggling as well as AIDS in Guinea. He also implied that refugees attracted rebel incursions from neighbouring countries. UNHCR fears these public declarations could trigger further anti-refugee sentiment among the local population and the military.

Some refugees from Farmoriah are reported to have spontaneously returned to Sierra Leone, and our office in Freetown has already reported several thousand returns around Lungi and Port Loko. A group of some 5,000 returnees is presently reported "trapped" in the Kambia district, which is inaccessible because of the presence of RUF rebels there.

Meanwhile, the situation in Guéckédou Prefecture in south-western Guinea seems to have calmed. Some of the road blocks have been dismantled. However, a UNHCR security mission to the area found 20 roadblocks between Kissidougou and Guéckédou, some of them military and others manned by young vigilantes who seem to pursue their own agenda. The local authorities have relayed an earlier call by President Conté not to harass humanitarian personnel and they have also assured UNHCR that they are doing everything possible to allow a quick return of aid agencies to the region. UNHCR's position is that it will only return when the safety of its personnel is ensured and the border situation has stabilized. Guéckédou prefecture holds some 205,000 of the total 480,000 refugees hosted by Guinea, while the south-western region as a whole hosts 400,000.