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UNHCR urges Guinea to open border to asylum seekers

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UNHCR urges Guinea to open border to asylum seekers

17 May 2001 Also available in:

GENEVA - UNHCR is deeply disturbed by Guinea's continued closure of its southern border with Liberia and its refusal to allow Liberian asylum seekers into the country.

This morning, UNHCR's Representative in Guinea met with senior officials in the country's Ministry of Interior to express the agency's growing concern over Guinea's failure to meet its international obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention.

A UNHCR team which travelled to the southern border towns of Yomou and Macenta over the weekend were told by villagers that scores of Liberian asylum seekers fleeing renewed violence in Liberia's Lofa county had been turned back by Guinean military when they tried to enter the country. Hundreds of others had reportedly gathered on the Liberian side of the border waiting to be let through. The team heard that when Liberian rebels attacked and burned villages in the northern part of Lofa County in April, some Guinean nationals who were among those fleeing the violence were allowed back into Guinea. Liberian asylum seekers in the group were, however, turned away.

Because of the delicate security situation along Guinea's border with Liberia, UNHCR staff have not been able to visit these areas on a regular basis. The border areas have been classified by Guinean authorities as a military operation zone, and authorisation is required to travel there.

UNHCR has not returned to Macenta since September, when the UNHCR head of office there was brutally murdered and another staff member abducted. A full-time presence has, however, been re-established in Nzérékoré, to the south-east of Macenta.

UNHCR is caring for over 80,000 Liberian refugees in Guinea. The majority of them live in sites and villages close to the insecure Guinea/Liberia border. UNHCR is arranging the transfer of these refugees to a new site 36 kms north-east of Nzérékoré, and is ready to assist further arrivals.