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Guinea: three UNHCR teams to be deployed

Briefing notes

Guinea: three UNHCR teams to be deployed

22 December 2000

UNHCR is deploying three emergency teams to Guinea and Sierra Leone in response to the displacement of tens of thousands of refugees following recent attacks in in southern Guinea. The refugees, from Sierra Leone and Liberia, have been fleeing camps in Guinea's insecure border region since early December. Many are trying to move to safer areas in the north and east. Others are trying to reach Conakry in order to return to Sierra Leone. All are believed to be in urgent need of help.

The three emergency response teams - 46 people in all - are being deployed immediately from UNHCR offices and NGO partners worldwide and will join UNHCR's Guinea-based staff in trying to get help to the tens of thousands of refugees. Their mission is to provide immediate emergency assistance; to assist with internal relocation to relatively safe areas within Guinea; and to assist those refugees who wish to return to Sierra Leone.

UNHCR operations in Guinea have been severely restricted since September, when a staff member was killed by unidentified attackers in the south-western town of Macenta. Fighting intensified in early December, further affecting access to a string of camps housing more than 300,000 refugees in the Guéckédou-Kissidougou area. UNHCR has had no access to some 280,000 refugees in a string of camps around Guéckédou since early this month and their condition is unknown.

UNHCR staff who travelled to the Kissidougou region this week found some 4,000 refugees on the road between Kissidougou and Faranah, 130 km to the north-west. The refugees were exhausted, some having walked more than 100 km with little or no food. Many are in urgent need of medical assistance.

Massakoundou, a camp where local authorities have transferred thousands of refugees who had converged on the town of Kissidougou, is now jammed with some 35,000 refugees. Massakoundou was designed for 20,000 people and the overcrowding is dangerously stretching its infrastructure.

Three UNHCR trucks arrived in Kissidougou from Conakry yesterday (Thursday) carrying tons of food, blankets, buckets, soap and kitchen utensils. Distribution will benefit both the fleeing refugees and the displaced Guinean population. More trucks are on the way. On the return trip to Conakry, the trucks are being used to carry vulnerable refugees who want to go to the capital and then on to Sierra Leone. Medical supplies have been flown to Kissidougou and clinics will be opened in different locations, including Massakoundou.

In Conakry, UNHCR and MSF are building a transit centre for up to 1,000 people. We have also hired a ferry which will make five trips a week carrying returning refugees from Conakry to Freetown - a seven-hour voyage. The first ferry left Conakry on Wednesday with 324 voluntary returnees. The Sierra Leone Embassy, meanwhile, continues operating its own ship as well. The latest ferried nearly 3,000 people to Freetown on Tuesday.

Food distribution and assistance has been stepped up at the Sierra Leone and Liberian embassies in Conakry to refugees gathering there while they await their departure home. An estimated 25,000 refugees have returned to Sierra Leone since September, about 80 percent of them former refugees from the camps in Guéckédou and Forécariah. The number of refugees remaining in Guinea is now estimated at 328,000 Sierra Leoneans and 122,000 Liberians.

One of the three emergency teams will be deployed in Sierra Leone to assist returnees from Guinea. An additional transit centre is being built in Freetown to receive the increasing numbers of returnees. Once processed by UNHCR in Freetown, returnees who are from government-controlled areas of Sierra Leone will be provided transport home. Returnees from rebel-controlled areas will be taken to reception centres in Waterloo and Jui, or directly to returnee settlements in government areas.