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West Africa: Security Council mission in Guinea

Briefing notes

West Africa: Security Council mission in Guinea

10 October 2000

UNHCR officials, including our Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Mr. Abou Moussa, met yesterday in Conakry, Guinea, with a UN Security Council mission to West Africa. The UNHCR officials briefed the mission on the recent events in the region, the fate of refugees and the security situation in the Guinea camps and at the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. The 10-member Security Council mission asked about conditions for the return of UNHCR staff to the Guinea camps. UNHCR insists that safety and security for refugees and humanitarian personnel can only be assured if the border regions are safe. UNHCR has requested the government of Guinea to reinforce its security contingent in and around the camps and to identify new sites away from the border, where some 125,000 vulnerable refugees, presently hosted in border camps, could be transferred. UNHCR estimates $13 million would be needed for the transfer operation. UNHCR also believes the international community must encourage a regional dialogue to bolster confidence between the parties to the conflict in the region. Efforts must also be made to identify the perpetrators of attacks. UNHCR is sending missions to Guéckédou and Forécariah this week to make a new assessment of the security situation there. Any sign of improvement could lead to the deployment of a small emergency mission to the camps. UNHCR staff in Guinea were recalled to the capital in mid-September following the murder of UNHCR's head of office in Macenta. Attacks and insecurity have reportedly continued. Guinea hosts some 460,000 refugees, from Sierra Leone (330,000) and Liberia (130,000).

Meanwhile, spontaneous returns of refugees to Sierra Leone continue to take place as a result of trouble in the camps in Guinea. Since the latest spate of attacks in early September in the border regions of Guinea, some 6,000 returnees have repatriated from camps in the Forécariah region to the Lungi area of Sierra Leone, some 30 km north of Freetown. The returnees are presently located in villages bordering the Kambia district. UNHCR and the government of Sierra Leone have agreed that the refugees will be relocated to a cluster of about 50 villages in a safe part of the Lungi peninsula and hosted by the local population. Assistance will be given to the returnees (shelter, seeds and tools) and to the hosting community, including water and sanitation, educational facilities and construction tools.

Another group of several thousand returnees is said to be blocked in Sierra Leone's RUF-controlled Kambia district, where UNHCR has no access. Returnees have also informed us of significant spontaneous repatriation overland from Guéckédou to the RUF-controlled Kono district, where UNHCR also has no access.

A total of 9,337 passengers have returned to Freetown by boat from Conakry over the past three weeks, a majority of them economic migrants. A total of 1,264 of them were returning refugees. While initially the returnees were almost exclusively from Conakry and Forécariah regions, there has been a significant increase in numbers coming from camps in the troubled Guéckédou and Kissidougou regions. An increasing number of returnees are relying on UNHCR for accommodation at the transit centre we have set up in Waterloo IDP camp, near Freetown.