Thousands of internally displaced Guineans returned to their home areas during 2002, encouraged by overall improvements in the security situation. According to a government census in February 2002, the total number of IDPs was 82,000 - indicating that up to 240,000 displaced had returned to their areas of origin since the security situation in Guinea stabilized in 2001 (UN, Nov 2002, p8).
A complex displacement crisis
Before the emergence of internally displaced persons in Guinea, civil wars in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone had already turned Guinea into one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world, accommodating some 500,000 refugees by the end of the year 2000 - resulting in further economic decline, ethnic tension and intensifying border attacks. The crisis inside Guinea itself escalated in September 2000, when fighting broke out in the Parrot's Beak area (Languette) bordering northeastern Sierra Leone and northern Liberia, and thousands of Guineans became internally displaced.
The main reason for this crisis was that Guinea became embroiled in a complex regional conflict started by former warlord turned president, Charles Taylor, in Liberia in 1989. Guinea was a founding member of the West African peackekeeping force (ECOMOG) that was established in an attempt to restore order in Liberia in 1990. At the same time, Guinea became the base for Liberian dissidents (many of them refugees) who would later form an armed rebel group in opposition to Taylor's warring faction.
Border attacks on Guinea from both Liberia and Sierra Leone began in 2000. These were violent raids, where the attackers would kill, burn and loot. Local populations soon turned against the refugees living in their midst. Guinea's president, Lansana Conté, was quick to blame Charles Taylor (elected president of Liberian in 1997) for the attacks. Indeed, it became clear that Taylor's forces were launching cross-border attacks against Liberian rebel bases near Macenta. It also became apparent, however, that a Guinea rebel group, joining forces with the Liberian-backed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, were likewise responsible for the mayhem (BBC, Feb 2001).
The Guinean government responded with helicopter gunships and heavy artillery in the border areas. Yet the attackers still managed to target the important towns of Macenta and Gueckedou in the Parrot's Beak area, forcing residents to flee and leaving buildings in ruins.
The situation in Guinea eased with the ceasefire agreement of May 2001 between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF, with the RUF disarming and withdrawing from Kambia District, which had provided a base for launching cross-border attacks. Further improvements came with the official end of Sierra Leone's civil war at the beginning of 2002, and - in March - an agreement between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to strengthen security along their borders and restore their latent economic grouping, the Mano River Union.
Liberia still a threat
But while Guinea has felt the positive repercussions of the situation in Sierra Leone, hopes for lasting peace and stability were dashed with renewed armed conflict in northern Liberia in 2002, followed by widespread fighting in Cote d'Ivoire towards the end of the year. Both these crises created political and security concerns for Guinea: not least the influx of refugees from both countries, and in the case of Liberia, cross-border incursions into Guinea Forestière by unidentified armed assailants.
Guineans have also become internally displaced as a result of natural disasters. Following flash floods in Upper Guinea in September 2001, the government reported that more than 200,000 people were affected to varying degrees - although numbers of IDPs were unclear. The same region suffered drought in March and April 2002. Also in April 2002, the local authorities in the prefecture of Yomou, near the Liberian border, reported that a tornado had damaged 158 houses in the area, affecting over 1,200 people.
IDPs overwhelm host populations
At the height of the crisis in 2000-2001, the UN reported that many IDPs had lost everything while fleeing, and were living either in overcrowded households or in abandoned buildings unfit for human survival. Lack of access to basic health care and minimal food were causing outbreaks of disease and high levels of malnutrition (UN, Mar 2001, pp161-164).
Internally displaced people in Guinea have to a large extent integrated with resident populations. Most of them originate from rural areas and have had to leave their lands for shelter in urban and peri-urban environments. Many of these resident populations were already living in chronic poverty, made worse by the burden of taking in arriving IDPs. Areas receiving the displaced have been lacking clean water and sanitation facilities, and residents have poor access to food and health care (UN, Nov 2002, p3).
Just as was the case with many Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees displaced by the fighting in Guinea, it became apparent that Guinean IDPs also suffered human rights abuses during flight. According to an Amnesty International report published in June 2001, Guinean civilians were killed, beaten, raped and abducted by armed political groups, including the RUF, in cross-border attacks from Sierra Leone (AI, June 2001). Women and children, estimated by the UN to make up 60 percent of the IDP population, have been at particular risk (UN, Nov 2001, p13). In 2002, an assessment by UNHCR and Save the Children (UK) revealed the extent of sexual violence and exploitation of both refugee and IDP children living in camps in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea (UNHCR/ SC-UK, Jan 2002). Agency workers from local and international NGOs, as well as UN agencies, were found to be among the prime exploiters.
While reports indicate that IDPs have been making a slow but steady return to their home areas, it is also apparent that return has been difficult due to the destruction of many villages, and some towns, in the south-east of the country. Landmines are another obstacle to return in some border areas. The issue of return was further exacerbated by the destruction caused by the floods of September 2001in Upper Guinea - an area hosting thousands of IDPs from border areas.
At the national level, the government's National Service for Humanitarian Action (SENAH) is responsible for the coordination of humanitarian response for displaced persons (and natural disasters). This was consolidated in 2002 to better assess needs, and four regional bureaus were opened through UNDP (UN, Nov 2002, p11).
Access to vulnerable populations has been problematic. During the height of the fighting, humanitarian agencies were only able to provide intermittent aid to both refugees and IDPs, particularly in the Parrot's Beak region, which was closed off to aid organizations for a significant period of time. As areas began to open up again in 2001, humanitarian organizations found acute subsistence needs among all vulnerable populations - namely refugees, IDPs and host communities.
The overall humanitarian response to IDPs in Guinea, as well as host communities, has been described as less than adequate. In the 2002 Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for Guinea, the UN declared, 'UN agencies and their partners in Guinea have been unable to fully address the needs of IDPs and host communities, as most donors have limited their contributions to refugee programmes. The resulting disparity between assistance for refugees and assistance for vulnerable groups of Guinean origin remains a major source of concern, and a significant potential source of tension between host communities and refugees' (UN, Nov 2001, p2). At the same time, the UN identified key problems facing UN agencies and their partners in responding to the situation of internal displacement: 'a scattered population, hard to identify, mingling with host populations, its demographic and socio-economic profile unknown' (op cit, p11).
The IDP issue in Guinea suffered further neglect as a result of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire following the September 2002 coup attempt. The focus of both the government of Guinea and humanitarian partners turned very much towards the new influx of refugees and Guinean evacuees.
A further impediment to the humanitarian response in Guinea has been under-funding. The 2003 CAP -aimed at addressing the needs of refugees, IDPs and host communities - calls for just over US$54.1 million in donor funds. However, according to OCHA's web-based financial tracking system, of the US$51.4 million requested in the 2002 CAP, only 51 percent was received. While food aid was relatively well-funded, health, shelter, agriculture, water and sanitation, and economic recovery were particularly poorly funded or not at all.
Updated January 2003
The country profile includes complete reference to the sources and documents used.