Guinea: UNHCR emergency team to 'bec de perroquet' area
UNHCR is today sending an emergency team to Guinea's volatile "bec de perroquet" (parrot's beak) area, where up to 250,000 refugees and internally displaced people are in urgent need of food and medical supplies. The situation in the area, briefly visited by UNHCR security officials last week, is believed to be much worse than elsewhere in Guinea, as no assistance has reached it since early December.
The thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone houses dozens of refugee camps. Thousands of refugees from the camps fled to Guinea's interior following rebel attacks last December but tens of thousands more remain stranded in the strife-torn border area. Aid agencies estimate there could be 70,000 internally displaced Guineans and 180,000 refugees in need of help. Many told the UNHCR security team last week that they were desperate to leave. Some complained they were blocked by Guinean troops from moving inland. Some refugees who have the resources have managed to make it as far as Conakry, where they signed up with UNHCR for sea transport home.
The number of Sierra Leonean refugees arriving in Conakry from refugee camps in south-eastern Guinea has risen significantly over the past few days. Refugees say they are living in fear of further rebel incursions in the border areas which have come under repeated attack since September last year. Since Saturday, more than 1,000 refugees have arrived at the UNHCR transit centre in Conakry, which now has 3,520 Sierra Leonean refugees anxious to return home. The exodus of local populations from south-eastern border areas, together with the increasing distrust toward refugees by the locals, further fuels the refugees' wish to go back.
Refugees who fled into the bush after the December 6 attack in the Guéckédou area continue to arrive at existing refugee camps further inland. The Nyaedou camp, north of Guéckédou, which previously had a population of 15,000, now holds an estimated 20,000 refugees. However, after a few days in the camps, most of the new arrivals as well as some of the old inhabitants are leaving to reach Conakry, in the hope of travelling onward to Sierra Leone. The malnutrition rate in Massakoundou and Nyaedou camps, both of which have nearly 50 percent more refugees than previously, is between 12-15 percent among children under five.
Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, UNHCR will start giving 'resettlement packages' to returnees going to government-controlled areas. The packages include kitchen sets, tarpaulins, jerry cans, soap, lanterns, blankets and mats. UNHCR is adding another five protection/field officers to its Sierra Leone staff, allowing better monitoring of the return and reintegration of Sierra Leoneans.