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Guinea Update: UNHCR to resume presence in Kissidougou

Guinea Update: UNHCR to resume presence in Kissidougou

27 December 2000

UNHCR to resume presence in Kissidougou

UNHCR staff members are returning to the Kissidougou area of south-central Guinea to begin preparations for a new transit site for up to 60,000 refugees who have fled camps further to the south in the country's strife-torn Guéckédou region.

The UNHCR technical specialists, expected to travel to the region on Thursday, will begin working on plans for the new site at Sangardo, 30 kms north-west of Kissidougou. The camp will initially offer shelter for groups of up to 10,000 refugees that have been spotted moving on roads between Kissidougou and Faranah. It will also be used to house some 15,000 to 20,000 recently displaced refugees who have converged on the Massakoundou camp, 8 kms west of Kissidougou. Massakoundou was built to house 20,000 refugees, but is currently jammed with 35,000 to 40,000 people who recently fled there from the Guéckédou area. The crush of refugees is severely straining the camp's infrastructure.

Tens of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone have fled a string of border camps in Guinea's south-western Guéckédou area since a series of cross-border attacks began in early December. Many have fled to the north and east, toward Kissidougou. But the fate of tens of thousands more refugees remains unknown, including an estimated 150,000 refugees in several camps in the so-called "parrot's beak," a thumb of Guinean territory that juts into Sierra Leone south-west Guéckédou. UNHCR withdrew from the region when its Guéckédou office was burned and several vehicles destroyed in the early December attacks. The withdrawal also followed an attack by unidentified rebels in September in the town of Macenta, where UNHCR's head of office was murdered and another staff member abducted. She was later released.

In addition to the Sangardo site, UNHCR had previously considered refugee sites at Albadaria and Dabola, north and west of Faranah, as part of an earlier plan to move the refugees farther from the insecure border. Those sites may again be considered.

A UNHCR assessment team which went to the Guéckédou region over the weekend reported the presence of up to 23,000 refugees at Nyaedou camp, 15 kms north of Guéckédou. The camp previously had held 15,000 people. Refugees who fled the Guéckédou area said some camps had emptied completely and large concentrations of refugees were congregating in others. They said Guinean authorities had set up roadblocks in some areas to prevent refugees from moving northwards into safer areas of Guinea. Authorities reportedly fear that the camps in the "parrot's beak" area were infiltrated with Sierra Leonean RUF rebels and do not want those populations moving into the interior of Guinea.

The UNHCR mission to Guéckédou was told that rebels had reportedly moved in a line eastward from Guéckédou, emptying several camps along the way - including Tomandou, Katkama, Faindou and Yende. On Saturday, the UNHCR team found the population of Yende, a small market village, still burying their dead.

Refugees in Nyaedou are in generally good health and were just coming to the end of their one-month food distribution. Refugees in Massakoundou are now receiving food distribution.

Sierra Leonean Refugees in Conakry

On Wednesday morning, there were approximately 1,900 Sierra Leoneans waiting in the Guinean capital, Conakry, for transportation to Freetown, Sierra Leone. They included 1,500 people in a transit centre and 400 at the Sierra Leone Embassy. The priority is to empty the embassy first, so it can resume normal functions. The ambassador has closed the embassy grounds to new arrivals.

A UNHCR-organized vessel, the Overbeck, made its third trip on Tuesday night to Freetown, carrying 257 voluntary Sierra Leonean returnees. In all, the Overbeck has now brought a total of 861 Sierra Leoneans to Freetown from Conakry. The next voyage is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday). On its return trip, the vessel is bringing medicine from UNHCR Freetown stocks. MSF will begin pre-departure measles vaccines for returnees.

Returnees in Sierra Leone

Upon arrival in Sierra Leone, returnees will be allowed five days in the transit centres in Freetown. A UNHCR mass information effort advises candidates for return to Sierra Leone that:

Those from unsafe areas in Kambia, Bombali and Port Loko Districts will have the option of going to villages in the Lungi Peninsula.

Those from unsafe areas in Kailahun and Kono districts will go to temporary sites in Bo and Kenema.

Those from safe areas in the west, like Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Moyamba, Bonthe and Pujehun districts, will be assisted with UNHCR transportation to their home areas.