Guinea Update: renewed fighting disrupts aid operation
UNHCR and other relief agencies suspended operations in Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" area and the neighbouring Guéckédou region on Monday, amid fresh reports of fighting in south-eastern Guinea. The move represents a setback for UNHCR's effort to supply urgently needed aid to an estimated 250,000 people in a string of encampments in the "parrot's beak" - a thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone.
UNHCR staff on Monday travelled from their base in the relatively safe town of Kissidougou to the more volatile Guéckédou and Nyaedou areas, further south. They encountered heavy military presence in Guéckédou town, which they described as virtually deserted. The military told aid workers to keep out of the northern Guéckédou and the "parrot's beak" areas, which they said had been the scene of a major military operation since an attack on Guéckédou last Saturday.
In the Nyaedou camp, 15 kms north of Guéckédou, aid workers on Sunday found about 1,000 refugees who fled the Guéckédou area in the wake of the latest fighting. The newcomers said those fleeing the area had difficulty crossing checkpoints manned by government forces and pro-government militia. UNHCR and MSF (Médecins sans Frontières) staff tried to visit Nyaedou again on Monday but were discouraged from doing so by the Guinean military who cited security concerns. Before the latest arrivals, the camp held an estimated 23,000 people.
UNHCR staff and other aid workers have now pulled back to Kissidougou, which itself is swelling with newly displaced refugees and local residents fleeing the fighting and trying to make their way to safer areas.
On Monday, UNHCR and partner agency staff deployed in the Faranah region, 130 kms north-west of Kissidougou, where preparations for new camp sites are underway. UNHCR hopes that some of those in need of aid and shelter can be accommodated there.
The effort to repatriate Sierra Leone refugees stuck in Guinea's capital, Conakry, will receive a boost on Wednesday when a second boat, chartered by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), starts ferrying refugees back to Freetown in Sierra Leone. The Liberian government is also planning a boatlift from Conakry to Liberia's capital, Monrovia, of some 900 Liberian nationals who have been holed up at the Liberian Embassy compound in Conakry for weeks.