Many of the refugees fled Sierra Leone after the rebels launched a new offensive in the fall of 1998 and winter of 1999 in an attempt to gain control of this West African country. Now, five months after the peace agreement brought an end to this, one of the world's bloodiest wars, refugees - a majority of them women and children - remain in more than 80 camps near the city of Gueckedou, where the borders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet.
"Each family has the right to decide when they feel safe to return to their homes," says Jack Soldate, director of CARE's West Africa programs. "So far, very few families have elected to return to Sierra Leone and CARE will continue to meet their food needs in Guinea."
Almost monthly, CARE distributes food to the refugees at 47 different sites. Each family receives a supply of vegetable oil, wheat flour, green peas, a corn and soy blend, and burglar wheat. Often, it is difficult to deliver the food since Gueckedou is a heavily forested region and the roads are very poor. With the recent end of the rainy season, the unpaved roads are drying out, making them more passable than during the country's wettest months from May through October.
Many of the refugees have not returned to Sierra Leone since it is still difficult for them to sustain themselves in their home country. During the war, many businesses were forced to close or were torched during battles, and farmland was destroyed. Economic development and the rehabilitation of agricultural land is just beginning occur in to Sierra Leone.
"I do not have any food except the supply (of food distributed by CARE)," says Lucy Senesis, who arrived in Guinea in February 1999 with two of her four children. "The food supply is my only way to eat since my husband died during the war."
Currently, Guinea is home to more refugees than any other African country. Nearly 90 percent of them live in Gueckedou and near Nzerekoré, two of the poorest regions of Guinea. CARE supplies life-saving food to most of the refugees in Gueckedou.
CONTACT: Sue Aitkin, CARE USA, (404) 681-2552