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Guinea Update: UNHCR deploys more staff in south Guinea

Guinea Update: UNHCR deploys more staff in south Guinea

4 January 2001

UNHCR on Wednesday flew 13 emergency staff to south Guinea's Kissidougou area, strengthening presence in the region which hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees in need of aid and threatened by instability in Guinea's border areas. The newly deployed UNHCR team will work with non-governmental organisations already active in the area to address refugee protection problems as well as nutritional and health issues.

Over the next few days, UNHCR staff are planning to venture out to the Guéckédou area, further south near the Sierra Leonean and Liberian borders, to see whether aid can be delivered to this highly volatile zone. According to testimonies from individuals who have toured the area, refugees are in urgent need of medical care and food. Many of the camps have not received food for several months. Eyewitnesses say refugees are now taking crops from local farmers' fields. UNHCR staff also hope to visit the "bec de perroquet" (the parrot's beak) area, south-west of Guéckédou town. The thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone territory is dotted with a string of refugee camps.

Later in the week, UNHCR staff will also travel to the Nzérékoré, further east. A series of security incidents in the border area since last September drove many Liberian refugees eastward towards Nzérékoré town. More than 1,000 were registered by the UNHCR office there before staff had to be relocated to Conakry. UNHCR is also concerned about an estimated 10,000 Liberians at the nearby Kouankan camp.

UNHCR drastically reduced its presence in Guinea's border areas last September in the wake of the murder by marauding rebels of the head of UNHCR's office in Macenta, followed by a string of violent attacks in several areas of southern Guinea.

Liberians in Conakry ask to be taken home

Meanwhile in Conakry, 673 Liberians holed up at the Liberian embassy told UNHCR on Wednesday that they wanted to go back to Liberia. The first of them arrived in the capital last September when anti-refugee sentiment grew, following public statements by the Guinean government which linked cross-border rebel attacks with the presence of refugees. Although the group has a great deal of luggage, repatriation to Liberia's capital Monrovia by air is seen as more practical than by sea. UNHCR is looking into chartering an aircraft for the operation.

Sierra Leonean refugees from Forécariah to be moved inland

Later this week, the UNHCR representative in Guinea is scheduled to meet with the governor of western Kindia province, to seek his approval for a transfer of Sierra Leone refugees from the Forécariah camps in western Guinea to a safer area further inland. The Forécariah sites south of Conakry, which host some 22,000 refugees, have been attacked from Sierra Leone in the past.

Repatriation to Sierra Leone

UNHCR continues to ship Sierra Leoneans from Conakry back to Freetown. On Tuesday, 50 people left aboard UNHCR-chartered MV Overbeck, bringing the total of Sierra Leone refugees returned by UNHCR to over 1,900. Two more boat trips are scheduled for this week. Among the passengers departing Tuesday evening were one orphan and 16 unaccompanied or separated children. In Freetown, efforts are underway to find additional space for those returning. A UNHCR site planner has been visiting areas where returnees could be granted plots of arable land.

On Wednesday, UNHCR moved approximately 100 returnees out of Freetown transit centres to Bo and Kenema. Another 300 people were moved yesterday to Lungi. Roughly 15,000 returnees have been moved to temporary settlement sites on the Lungi peninsula since September. Returnees are transported from Freetown by a fleet of UNHCR trucks and buses. Some travel on their own, after receiving onward transportation grants.

UNHCR staff have been checking lists of Sierra Leoneans returning on the MV Overbeck against the database of refugees registered by UNHCR in Guinea. So far, checks have confirmed that almost everyone who has signed up for return had been registered in camps.

During the first four months of this year, UNHCR is planning to extend emergency aid to 100,000 people inside Guinea. Under the plan, a further 40,000 refugees will be relocated to new camps in Guinea while another 50,000 will return to Sierra Leone. These are planning figures which may change as the situation evolves.