UNHCR Briefing Notes: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guinea/Sierra Leone, Ethiopia/Somalia

from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 10 Apr 2001
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina

UNHCR is alarmed by the recent acts of violence designed to intimidate ethnic Serbs who try to return to their pre-war homes in the Croat-controlled part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Last Friday, an explosive device was thrown at the house of a Serb who had just returned to a village near Grahovo, 150 kms west of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo. Just two days earlier, a school rebuilt by the Norwegian Refugee Council was blown up in another Grahovo area village. The authorities planned to use the building to house Serb returnees while their homes were being repaired. The attacks caused no casualties but they are a cause for alarm since they clearly represent an attempt to intimidate Serbs trying to return to their pre-war homes. Before the two attacks, more than 3,000 ethnic Serbs returned to Grahovo without incident. Before the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, the Grahovo municipality was almost entirely populated by ethnic Serbs who fled the area during the war. They started trickling back only in 1998.

The recent incidents in the Grahovo area are a sad exception in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more and more people are going back to live among their former enemies. So far this year, a record 8,723 people have gone back to areas controlled by their former foes. Since the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the Bosnia war in November 1995, the number of people internally displaced by the conflict has gone down from over 800,000 to 518,000.

2. Guinea/Sierra Leone

Relocation continues from southern Guinea's troubled refugee camps to safer sites further north. During the course of last week, three convoys were organised to the new site of Boreah which was opened on April 4. Boreah is now hosting close to 1,500 refugees. The first relocation site in Kountaya has now reached full capacity, with a total of 26,000 refugees relocated. Additional convoys will run this week for a total relocation of some 3,000 people. Some of the recently relocated refugees were evacuated from Koundou Lengo Bengo, a camp in the northern part of the Parrot's Beak. Others were picked up in Katkama, a transit camp north of the town of Gueckedou, where thousands of refugees have gathered in the past weeks following fighting in the border region. Others are being moved from Massakoundou, a camp close to Kissidougou where UNHCR has its operational base. Massakoundou is still holding some 11,000 refugees. Since September last year, when fighting erupted around Guinea's border zones, Massakoundou, like Katkama, has been a gathering point for refugees fleeing camps close to the fighting. At its peak, the camp may have held as many as 30,000 refugees. Massakoundou was also used by refugees as a departure point towards Conakry where they can catch a ferry to Freetown. Regular buses, run privately or by the Catholic mission, continue to transport refugees to Conakry each week. Due to security concerns and the proximity of the Sierra Leone border to the west, the authorities have repeatedly insisted that Massakoundou camp should be closed. Two weeks ago, several hundred refugees were arrested in Massakoundou and briefly detained on suspicion of belonging to a rebel movement. All but two have now been released.

Because of overcrowding in the Conakry transit centre, currently holding more than 3,000 people, UNHCR is setting up an additional transit centre some 100 kms north of Conakry, with a capacity of 1,000. The centre will be used for a one-night stopover before refugees coming from camps in Guinea's forest region are taken to the port.

In Sierra Leone, UNHCR is assisting with the continued arrival of both boat and spontaneous foot returnees from Guinea and Liberia. A total of 53,053 former refugees have now been assisted back home or resettled in host communities in Lungi (north of Freetown) and Barri chiefdoms, as well as in temporary settlement sites in Jembe and Gerihun, in the east of the country. The Jembe and Gerihun sites have also reached full capacity of 5,000 and 2,500 persons respectively. Gerihun can be further expanded to take another 2,500 persons, pending clearing of the densely forested area.

In Daru, eastern Sierra Leone, it is estimated that more than 3,200 returnees from both Guinea and Liberia are awaiting onward transportation by UNAMSIL to Kenema, some 50 kms to the south, where they are registered and assisted by UNHCR. The total registered in Kenema so far is 4,300 returnees, including 3,200 from Liberia and 1,100 from Sierra Leone.

3. Ethiopia/Somalia

UNHCR today resumed voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees from Ethiopia. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who is in Ethiopia, was at Camaboker refugee camp to see off the departing convoy carrying 1,500 refugees who volunteered to be repatriated to Northwest Somalia. These refugees are part of the 60,000 Somalis that UNHCR plans to repatriate by the end of this year. Another 10,000 Ethiopian nationals who had lived in Somalia prior to 1991 and who have been living in the Ethiopian refugee camps along with the Somali refugees, will be assisted to settle in their areas of origin.

Last year, UNHCR repatriated 43,467 refugees to Northwest Somalia, bringing the number of returnees to 125,572 Somali refugees since movement started in 1997. The office also assisted 8,026 Ethiopian nationals who had fled Somalia to return to their places of origin last year. An estimated 50,000 Ethiopians are receiving humanitarian assistance in Ethiopian refugee camps. Ethiopia hosted more than 1 million refugees in the 1990s and today it hosts 198,000, including 119,507 from Somalia. Some political stability has been established in Northwest Somalia and refugees who have been repatriated have successfully reintegrated in their place of origin. The situation in the south has remained unstable, however.

Those repatriated are provided with a reintegration package, including household goods and a cash grant.

Mr. Lubbers is visiting the East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region following a meeting of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, last week. He has so far visited refugee camps in Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. He also met with the heads of states of these countries.

While in the region, the High Commissioner has also met UNHCR staff members. In Addis Ababa, he will meet with UNHCR country representatives from the region. He will then meet with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. His visit to the region ends on Thursday.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.