In September 2000, rebel attacks on Macenta and Forecariah triggered population movements out of both towns and a surge in violence against refugees. Significant repatriation of refugees from Forecariah to Sierra Leone followed. A rebel attack against Gueckedou in December set off further population movements, north towards Kissidougou, and trapped tens of thousands of refugees southwest of Gueckedou. In response to the September and December incidents, Guinea militias were armed between Faranah and Gueckedou. In January 2001, sporadic rebel attacks continued near Gueckedou and Macenta, leading to the replacement along the Sierra Leone border of administrative prefets with military officers. Concurrently armed Sierra Leone kamajors and Liberian dissident Ulimo-K were seen in Nyaedou refugee camp north of Gueckedou, followed by threats of an RUF attack on Kissidougou in late January.
Finally on February 1, the Sierra Leone and Guinea governments established a joint body to "ensure that Guinean forces avoid causing civilian casualties when in hot pursuit of rebels in Sierra Leone." 1
The Guinea conflict is now a regional conflict, aid programs have been frequently suspended since last September, and access to Gueckedou and Macenta remains tenuous. In addition to hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid, insecurity is inhibiting refugee movement to safe areas while creating an IDP population. In early February 2001, the number of refugees requiring emergency assistance totaled half a million, specifically 146,496 in the languette (area of Guinea southwest of Gueckedou, wedged between Sierra Leone and Liberia), 35,000 in Nyaedou, 30,000 in Massakoundou, 16,000 along the Kissidougou-Faranah road, and 12,000 in Kouankan. 2
Meanwhile aid agencies estimated in early January that 70,000 IDPs were present between Faranah and Macenta. 3 In Forecariah, the number of refugees has fallen from 20,000 last September to 12,000, with an estimated 2,600 IDPs. 4 UNHCR assisted 7,887 refugees to return to Sierra Leone in January 2001, totaling 19,781 repatriated by UNHCR and IOM since last September. 5 As of early January, at least 34,500 other refugees had repatriated without UNHCR assistance. 6
Meanwhile a new transit center is scheduled to be built at Matoto in Conakry, to accommodate 5,000 returnees at a time. Starting in midJanuary, IOM-chartered ferries began operating between Conakry and Freetown, averaging 2,500 persons per week. UNHCR is preparing a 138-acre plot in Bo District, Sierra Leone, to accommodate returnees, as few structures are available in Freetown.
IRC maintains staff and equipment in Conakry, Kissidougou, and N'Zerekore to react quickly to the humanitarian crisis. IRC is reorganizing its core programs and reinforcing its emergency response, including hiring new international staff. Where feasible, IRC will extend its refugee programs to Guinea populations, especially IDPs. Programs include education (school construction, school feeding, curriculum development, teacher training, provision of school supplies and teacher salaries), health education, child tracing & reunification, and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. IRC bases its activities in Kissidougou, while continuing to work in N'Zerekore and Forecariah. When feasible, IRC will prioritize opening schools in Kissidougou, N'Zerekore, and Forecariah.
UNHCR plans to construct 2 refugee camps at Albadaria and 4 at Dabola, with the goal of moving refugees to these sites from the Sierra Leone border by June 2001. IRC is contracting to manage site construction and wet food rations at Albadaria, plus transit center construction at Dabola. The latter will include 100 centers per camp and sanitation facilities, each center to support 50 refugees until registered, screened, and given a shelter package. In addition, IRC will continue as UNHCR's primary school construction partner, constructing at Albadaria and Dabola schools, school latrines, wells, and recreation centers for children 2 to 5 years.
IRC will remain in Guinea to protect and serve war-affected populations. Nonetheless IRC and other aid agencies need assurances of security for refugees and IDPs throughout the country, plus safe access to these populations. The consequences of delaying access are grave. In addition:
IRC believes recent events in Guinea point toward an increasing regionalization of the Sierra Leone war. IRC emphasizes the need for a regional approach-both political and humanitarian-to events in Guinea, beginning with the rapid deployment of neutral military observers along Guinea's border with Sierra Leone and Liberia.
IRC recommends that aid agencies establish a coordinated system for monitoring refugee and IDP movements in Guinea and conduct joint population needs assessments when feasible.
IRC reiterates that the government of Guinea must ensure the safety of refugee and IDP populations and aid operations.
For refugees who do not wish to repatriate, the international community has the obligation-despite local Guinean resentment and the added burden this will place on future repatriation-to relocate refugees a safe distance from the Sierra Leone border.
IRC applauds the U.S. Government's issuance of a disaster declaration for Guinea and the release of $5 million in emergency funds. IRC requests that such funds be made available directly to NGOs in addition to UNHCR, WFP, and IOM.
IRC appreciates UNHCR's decision to place emergency teams in Conakry, Kissidougou, and Freetown, to strengthen its national and regional humanitarian response.
IRC reiterates that child protection remains a priority in Guinea. To discourage youth from engaging in non-productive activities and to reduce the number of separated refugee and Guinean children as a result of population displacement, education and family tracing & reunification must begin at the earliest possible moment and form an integral part of any emergency response.
United Nations IRIN Report, Abidjan, February 1, 2001.
2 IRC Guinea field report, February 3, 2001.
3 UNHCR Guinea/Sierra Leone update, January 5, 2001.
4 IRC Guinea field report, February 3, 2001.
6 UNHCR Guinea/Sierra Leone update, January 5, 2001.
West Africa Regional Coordinator
International Rescue Committee
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168