Guinea Update: aid operation for Parrot's Beak gathers momentum
Nearly 29,000 refugees and displaced Guineans in the isolated Parrot's Beak region of southern Guinea have received hundreds of tons aid over the past week as humanitarian workers regain access to the troubled area.
UNHCR-organized convoys carrying food provided by the World Food Programme began making deliveries to the troubled region last week. An estimated 135,000 refugees and tens of thousands displaced Guineans have been trapped for months in the Parrot's Beak, which has been cut off from the rest of Guinea by fighting to the north and east. After nearly three months, refugees are receiving food supplies to take them through the next 30 days.
UNHCR hopes to speed up deliveries following approval by Guinean authorities over the weekend for the resumption of convoys through the devastated town of Guéckédou. This route will reduce the travel time to and from the Parrot's Beak by some six hours. If the security situation in Guéckédou remains calm and convoys are able to transit the town, the accelerated pace of convoys would enable UNHCR to reach the camp of Kolomba, at the furthest tip of the Parrot's Beak, sometime next week.
Since convoys began on Feb. 26, more than 413 tons of food have been delivered to nearly 29,000 people in camps and villages in the Parrot's Beak, a thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone. Food distribution should be completed Wednesday in Ouende Kenema to 6,300 refugees and 1,250 displaced Guineans. The next villages to be served include Nongoa, Ounde and Beindou, before the convoys can reach Kolomba. Kolomba is estimated to house some 30,000 refugees and the health and nutrition situation in the area is deemed one of the worst in the region. The Kolomba deliveries by UNHCR implementing partner Première Urgence will take up to five days. Deliveries will then proceed up north again, through villages and camps on the western side of the Parrot's beak, including Fangamadou (13,000 people) and Koundou Lengo Bengo (10,000).
CAMP TRANSFERS COMPLETED: UNHCR has completed the transfer of refugees from Nyaedou and Katkama camps, north of Guéckédou, to the newly-developed site of Kountaya. The new site is 160 kilometres north of Guéckédou. The last convoy on Sunday took 506 refugees out of Katkama to Kountaya, which now has a total of 17,479 refugees. Most are from Sierra Leone, but Liberians have also been taken there. UNHCR estimates 200-300 refugees arrive daily in Katkama from the Parrot's Beak. UNHCR will continue to organise relocation convoys for any new arrivals.
Katkama camp will remain a transit centre for refugees under a planned relocation operation in coming weeks from the Parrot's Beak to new sites further inland. By the end of this week, trucks that have been used to relocate refugees from Katkama to Kountaya will be added to the food convoys to beef up the trucking fleet and increase aid deliveries.
RELOCATION PLANS UNDERWAY: UNHCR is discussing plans with local authorities that will allow large numbers of refugees to walk northwards from vulnerable camps in the Parrot's Beak area, where an estimated 135,000 refugees remain. The existing camps are too close to the volatile border area where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. UNHCR hopes most of the refugees will agree to move further inland. Under the relocation plan, the most vulnerable refugees would be picked up by UNHCR trucks. For those going on foot, aid stations and pick-up points will be established along the route to provide basic assistance. A radio information campaign is underway through Radio Rurale de Guinée to inform refugees and the local population of the upcoming relocation. A workshop with refugee representatives, local authorities and UNHCR will be held next week to agree on minimal conditions to ensure safe passage for refugees out of the Parrot's Beak. Two separate routes out of the region are envisaged and are still under discussion.
RADIO BROADCASTS: In Kissidougou, UNHCR has started daily radio broadcasts over Radio Rurale de Guinée. The broadcasts, in French, English and Creole as well as other local languages, are aimed at refugees and local residents and reach as far as the Parrot's Beak area. The programmes include information on food distribution and other humanitarian assistance in the region. They answer questions frequently asked by refugees. The broadcasts appeal for continued support from the local population, which has been hostile to the refugees in recent months's, blaming them for unrest that has spread into Guinea. The programmes also outline possible future solutions for Guinea's refugee problem. Upcoming broadcasts will provide information on the pending relocation operation as well.