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Don't forget us after refugees leave, Guinea tells Lubbers

Don't forget us after refugees leave, Guinea tells Lubbers

On the first leg of his four-nation West Africa visit, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has assured Guinean authorities that UNHCR would advocate for rehabilitation and reconstruction support to Guinea following the return of refugees to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
31 January 2005
Liberian refugees returning home after years of exile in Guinea.

CONAKRY, Guinea, Jan 31 (UNHCR) - Rehabilitation and reconstruction of refugee-hosting areas were at the top of the agenda as UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers arrived in Guinea on the first leg of his four-nation trip to assess return movements in West Africa.

On Monday, the High Commissioner met Guinean President Lansana Conte, Minister of Territorial Administration Kiridi Bangoura, as well as representatives of donor countries and other UN agencies in the Guinean capital, Conakry.

One of the poorest West African nations, Guinea has been hosting refugees for the past 16 years from Liberia and Sierra Leone, which sent half a million refugees into its territory in the 1990s.

As peace returned to Sierra Leone in 2002, UNHCR was able to help 93,000 Sierra Leonean refugees to go home from Guinea by the time the repatriation operation ended last year. In addition, 1,684 Liberian refugees in Guinea have returned on UNHCR convoys since October last year, and more will follow with last week's news that 13 out of the 15 Liberian counties had been declared safe for return.

Guinea is currently hosting 120,000 mainly Liberian refugees whose return prospects will lead to a scale down in the refugee programme in the next two years.

Minister Bangoura, whose department deals with refugee issues in Guinea, welcomed the repatriation of refugees due to improved political developments in their countries. "It is important to continue to help Sierra Leone and Liberia to consolidate peace so that development could take place in the region," he stressed.

At the same time, he expressed concern that once the refugees have left Guinea, the international community would turn its back on the population that hosted them. He asked UNHCR to spearhead international efforts to rehabilitate and reconstruct areas of Guinea that received hundreds of thousands of refugees at the height of the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"UNHCR is the only partner that can take leadership to organize a roundtable on solidarity with Guinea in the post-refugee situation," Bangoura told the High Commissioner. "There is a need to rehabilitate areas affected by 16 years of refugee presence, particularly in the area of Guéckédou that needs reconstruction."

Guéckédou was the heart of the refugee-hosting areas until southern Guinea fell under rebel attacks in 2000 while the vast majority of refugees were still living there, provoking the worst humanitarian crisis at the time.

Lubbers said UNHCR would advocate for support to Guinea following the withdrawal of the refugees. The refugee agency's representative in Guinea, Stefano Severe, added that in the interim, $300,000 in funds left over from the Sierra Leonean repatriation programme would be used for rehabilitation activities.

Since the end of the 1990s, Guinea has been attempting to muster donor support to rehabilitate the environment and improve infrastructure that were strained by the long and heavy presence of refugees. However, the country failed to get a positive response from the international community, which has been linking its help to conditions like better governance and better management of public funds.

High Commissioner Lubbers left Guinea on Monday evening for Sierra Leone, where he will visit returnee areas before joining a return convoy to Liberia and ending his mission in Côte d'Ivoire on Saturday.