Guinea: relief effort dramatically scaled down

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR again has dramatically scaled down the relief effort in Guinea, amid reports of fresh attacks in the country's volatile south, where hundreds of thousands of refugees urgently need aid. Most of UNHCR's staff operating from the regional base in Kissidougou have been withdrawn northwards, with only several dozen international and national staff remaining. The pullout comes amid reports of violence in the south-western Guinea town of Guéckédou which started late Sunday and continued into Monday. Unconfirmed reports speak of several deaths. The new flare-up near Guéckédou has dashed hopes for quick access to an estimated 250,000 people stuck in the Parrot's Beak region - a thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone. While UNHCR is looking at ways of moving them to a safer area, any such operation would require elementary security.

The need to help Sierra Leonean refugees is becoming ever more urgent amid reports by former refugees of beatings and torture by the Guinean army in the Guéckédou area. There are also allegations of widespread abuses by Sierra Leonean rebels against desperate refugees who have resorted to walking back home through rebel-infested border areas. Refugees who have crossed areas of Sierra Leone controlled by the RUF rebels speak of rape, abduction and murder.

UNHCR is gravely concerned about the continued security incidents in south-west Guinea, as well as persistent rumours of more attacks. The volatile situation has turned the relief effort into an extremely risky, ad hoc venture.

However, despite the problems around Guinea's borders, work continues at two sites - Borea, 60 km north of Kissidougou and Kuntaya, 82 km north of Kissidougou - where UNHCR is building camps for refugees whom we hope to relocate from the Guéckédou and Parrot's Beak regions. By the end of this week UNHCR will start relocation convoys from Nyaedou camp, 17 km north of Guéckédou, in order to shift refugees away from the volatile border region. UNHCR cares for some 30,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in Nyaedou. On Monday, UNHCR airlifted 8,100 jerry cans, 7,000 blankets and 500 rolls of plastic tarpaulins to Conakry on a Boeing 707 that arrived from Copenhagen. These supplies will be used in the new camps.