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Guinea: 10,000 reported waiting to cross from Sierra Leone

Briefing notes

Guinea: 10,000 reported waiting to cross from Sierra Leone

22 August 2000

UNHCR in Guinea has received reports of an estimated 10,000 people waiting to cross the Melie River separating the Kono district of Sierra Leone from Guéckédou, Guinea. Over the weekend, 489 of them made it into Guinea. Due to the small size of the canoes, only 15 persons are able to cross at a time.

UNHCR is concerned about the bad state of the canoes being used and rocks in the river that may cause the canoes to collide. The office in Guéckédou has recommended the purchase of 50 life vests and 4 big pirogues, each carrying 400 passengers, for the transport of the asylum seekers.

The new refugees are transferred from the border to Katkama refugee camp, as requested by local authorities who allow them to enter Guinea territory on condition that they be relocated further inland. There are at present two camps with a capacity of 2,500 refugees, and UNHCR is considering rehabilitating another camp in Guelo which can hold up to 16,000 people.

Following the arrival in Guéckédou of more than 2,500 people during the first week of August, the Guinean authorities had been reluctant to let more Sierra Leoneans in for fear of rebel infiltration from the Eastern province of Sierra Leone, a RUF stronghold. However, after discussions with UNHCR, the authorities agreed to maintain an open-door policy for the vulnerable (pregnant and breast-feeding women), children and the elderly, through three designated humanitarian corridors. The presence of former fighters has been repeatedly reported among asylum seekers and several hundred more could be among those waiting to cross. UNHCR has asked that they be separated from the civilian population.

Asylum seekers are in bad condition, as they have been fleeing from renewed fighting, bombing and harassment of the civilian population by the RUF rebels in the Kono district. Three children and a pregnant woman died while waiting for authorisation to enter Guinea.

To avoid the selection process, about 1,000 persons attempted to cross the river to Bamba, 7km from the legal entry point, but they failed because of high waters.

New refugees from Sierra Leone started arriving in May this year after renewed fighting in several parts of the country. To date, there are 331,000 Sierra Leoneans refugees in Guéckédou and Forécariah, including more than 10,000 recent arrivals.