UNHCR shuts its office in the Kissidougou region of southern Guinea
CONAKRY, Guinea, October 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has just closed its office in Kissidougou, ending a nearly 18-year presence in the southern Guinea region near the borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. The office was closed without ceremony last Saturday, with staff removing telecommunications and office equipment and the office head moving to Conakry.
UNHCR opened it first office in south Guinea in 1989 - initially for eight years - in the border town of Guéckédou. In December 1997, the office had to be moved for security reasons to Kissidougou, some 80 kilometres to the north. At that time, thousands of refugees were fleeing into Guinea, escaping the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
UNHCR's decision to close the office and end its presence in the Kissidougou region is primarily the result of a successful repatriation of Liberian refugees. Between March 2005 and September 2006, UNHCR repatriated 16,000 out of the total 18,000 Liberian refugees in the Kissidougou region.
It was no longer viable to keep the Kissidougou operation open, said Stefano Severe, UNHCR's representative in Guinea. "To keep a bureau open, there should be at least 20,000 refugees," he explained.
The remaining 2,000 Liberian refugees, who were either unable or unwilling to return home, were transferred last month to Kouankan, near the town of Nzérékoré in south-eastern Guinea.
With more than 41,000 assisted returns to Liberia, the UNHCR operation in Guinea tops the list of West African countries involved in the Liberian repatriation operation which, since October 2004, has brought more than 90,000 Liberians back home.
Throughout its time in the Kissidougou region, UNHCR assisted tens of thousands of Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees sheltered in three locations. Boreah camp hosted only Sierra Leoneans and was closed at the end of 2004. The other two, the adjoining camps of Télikoro and Kountaya, were merged into one site - Kountaya - in 2005. All activities in the Kountaya camp closed at the weekend, thus allowing the departure of UNHCR from the region.
In closing down, UNHCR has donated some 3,600 items to the local communities that helped refugees for so many years. The goods range from medical supplies and school uniforms to furniture and sewing machines.
The closure of the office in Kissidougou will allow UNHCR to rationalise and consolidate its financial and human resources in Guinea. The country still hosts some 39,000 refugees, including more than 30,000 Liberians. The rest are from Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire.
A majority of the remaining refugee population is in camps located along the Guinean border with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, while some 9,000 are scattered across the Guinean capital, Conakry.