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Guinea: New influx of Liberian refugees

Briefing notes

Guinea: New influx of Liberian refugees

23 September 2003

Another 2,000 Liberian refugees have arrived in southern Guinea's forest region in the past week, bringing to at least 4,500 new arrivals in the south in the last 10 days. The fact that Liberians continue to flee is very worrying. It is obvious that many areas in Liberia are still very insecure and fighting is continuing, making it all the more urgent that peacekeepers be deployed throughout the country as soon as possible. The last thing we need is another outflow of Liberian refugees to neighbouring countries.

Local Guinean authorities alerted UNHCR to an influx of some 2,000 new Liberian refugees in the Fassankony area, near Macenta in south-eastern Guinea. This brings to over 4,500 the number of arrivals since September 13. The new arrivals in Fassankony are from the Loma ethnic group and apparently fled Liberia's Lofa County fearing ethnic reprisals after the Liberian army pulled out and rebels of the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) announced they were moving in. There have also been reports of some LURD presence in the Guinean town of Macenta, causing insecurity and anxiety among refugees, the local population and aid agencies alike.

UNHCR has sent missions to Fassankony and surrounding areas to visit schools and public buildings where the new arrivals are being hosted. The influx appears to be continuing, comprising mostly children, women and the elderly who are reported to be in dire need of food and health care.

Earlier last week, other groups of refugees arrived in the Yomou and Lola areas, further to the south of Guinea, along the border with Liberia. They reported fleeing new fighting between rebels and government forces in Liberia's Bong and Nimba counties, despite a recent cease-fire and transitional arrangement following the departure of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. At the same time, some 300 Liberians have arrived in Guinea's Nzérékoré town and are being assisted at the reception centre.

UNHCR organised registration and transfer teams and obtained formal agreement from the local authorities to start transferring the new arrivals to camps further inland. The convoys started last Tuesday for refugees in Lola and Yomou, who were taken to Lainé camp, pushing its population towards 27,000 refugees. Further convoys almost every day of last week helped move refugees from Fassankony to Kouankan camp. So far, UNHCR has already transferred about 1,500 of the new arrivals to the two camps. It intends to continue with daily convoys until all the Liberians have been accommodated.

We are also co-coordinating assistance with its partners on the ground - ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) to set up two mobile clinics, WFP (World Food Programme) to distribute high-protein biscuits to the most vulnerable in border towns, ACT (Action by Churches Together) to install water and sanitation in the reception centres and OCPH (Organisation Catholique Pour la Promotion Humaine) to deliver hot meals to the new arrivals. UNHCR will soon start distributing non-food items to the new arrivals.

UNHCR estimates there are nearly 116,000 Liberian refugees in the south of Guinea, including some 67,000 assisted in four camps, while the rest are spontaneously settled in the urban centres. The largest camp is Kouankan, north-east of the town of Nzérékoré, with nearly 28,000 refugees. This year alone, some 86,000 new Liberian refugees have fled to neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ghana, bringing to 310,000 the total number of Liberians in exile in the region.