Guinea: border crossing points into Sierra Leone opened
Guinea agreed last Friday to open several border crossing points into Sierra Leone. This will allow a growing number of Sierra Leonean refugees to cross into northern and eastern Sierra Leone via a more direct route and reduce the travel time from five to three days. Until now, returning refugees have had to travel on a roundabout route through the capital, Conakry, and from there by boat to Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown. The opening of the overland crossings will double the weekly number of returnees from 500 to 1,000.
The first road convoy is scheduled for Saturday. It will travel from the camps in Kissidougou to Port Loko, in northern Sierra Leone, through the Kambia border post.
Senior government and UNHCR officials are scheduled to visit military and civil authorities in the refugee-hosting zones and the border regions to inform them of the repatriation by road and discuss administrative details, including the type of documents travelling refugees will need.
The end of the civil war in Sierra Leone has prompted the return of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees living in Guinea. Some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees living in Guinea's Kissidougou area camps recently signed up for repatriation. Most of them say they want to go to Sierra Leone to vote during presidential elections set for May. They also believe the arrival of peace will make it easier to find jobs in Sierra Leone. Ninety percent of the refugees who have so far registered to go back originate from the east of Sierra Leone.
Some 36,000 refugees have returned from Guinea to Sierra Leone with UNHCR assistance in an operation that started in December 2000. Since September 2000, an estimated 153,000 Sierra Leoneans have returned from neighbouring countries.
In all, between 145,000 to 200,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remain in camps in Guinea, Liberia, Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal.