Last Updated: Friday, 24 October 2014, 13:58 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Guinea

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Guinea , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc48910.html [accessed 24 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Guinea hosted more than 180,000 refugees at the end of 2002, including an estimated 110,000 from Liberia, about 70,000 from Sierra Leone, and 2,000 from Côte d'Ivoire. About 50,000 refugees repatriated from Guinea to Sierra Leone during the year, while more than 30,000 new refugees arrived in Guinea from neighboring countries.

An estimated 20,000 Guineans remained internally displaced at year's end, although some estimates ranged much higher. About 5,000 Guineans were asylum seekers in industrialized countries. Some 30,000 Guinean citizens who had immigrated to Côte d'Ivoire in previous years returned to Guinea during 2002 because of violence in Côte d'Ivoire.

Sexual Exploitation of Refugees

Sexual exploitation suffered by refugees in Guinea and other West African countries exploded into international headlines in early 2002.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children Federation/United Kingdom issued a report in February charging that some aid workers, security personnel, and refugee leaders routinely forced vulnerable female refugees, including young girls, to provide sexual favors in return for assistance.

A follow-up UN investigation subsequently backed away from some specific charges, but generally concurred that sexual exploitation existed.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) issued a written analysis in February charging that the sexual exploitation allegations were "shocking but, in many respects, not surprising" because "the conditions that helped create such problems have been festering for more than a decade" in Guinea.

USCR cited "blame all around" for the scandal, including "poor management by UNHCR, insufficient UNHCR protection staff, artificially low budget requests by UNHCR, poor refugee funding by international donor nations, exploitation of refugees by refugee leaders, and social deterioration caused by 12 years of war" in West Africa.

International aid agencies issued a code of conduct for all relief workers in response to the scandal, conducted staff workshops, and fired individual employees in some cases.

UNHCR strengthened police patrols at refugee camps, closed brothels, and worked with other agencies to improve medical and psychological care for victims of sexual and gender-related abuse.

The International Rescue Committee placed hundreds of female teaching assistants in refugee schools, in part to monitor the conduct of male teachers toward female students.

UNHCR provided legal support to victims who filed formal charges against perpetrators, and a Guinean government court conducted expedited hearings in the refugee zone.

A USCR site visit to Guinea in June found that the problem of exploitation persisted. A USCR report in July noted that "the most important single factor is the continuing inadequacy of basic assistance," which left many refugee women and girls desperate and vulnerable.

USCR called for better targeting of aid to female refugees "to ensure that [they] are no longer deprived of basic needs in the camp, thus making them less compelled to engage in exploitative relationships to fulfill those material needs."

Refugees from Liberia

Hundreds of thousands of Liberians fled to Guinea during the 1990s to escape civil war in Liberia. An end to the war in 1996 enabled most refugees to repatriate, but 80,000 to 90,000 remained in Guinea because an armed insurgency continued in parts of Liberia.

At least 30,000 new refugees fled to Guinea during 2002 as Liberia's new war widened and intensified. Many new arrivals reached Guinea with virtually no possessions after paying bribes to Liberian combatants to reach the border. Some children arrived malnourished after fleeing through the forest for weeks with their parents.

Guinean soldiers at some crossing points blocked boys and young men from entering Guinea and pushed them back into Liberia to serve as porters for Liberian rebels. Soldiers also placed some refugees in detention for days before allowing them to proceed into Guinea.

UNHCR protested the forced repatriations (refoulement), and eventually persuaded the Guinean government to drop its restrictions on UNHCR's access to key border sites. Guinea is a party to the UN Refugee Convention.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sharply criticized UNHCR for its absence from border entry points where refugees were encountering serious protection problems, and charged that UNHCR reacted passively to government restrictions. MSF expressed concern that some border transit camps offered only "minimal" shelter, food, water, and latrines to new arrivals.

UNHCR agreed that the "situation along the border areas ... was precarious." The agency stated that "thousands of refugees have remained for long periods in volatile border areas where UNHCR and its partners could not ensure their protection or provide them with regular material assistance."

USCR conducted a site visit to Guinea in June to examine the Liberian refugee influx. A mid-year USCR report, citing the history of attacks against refugees in Guinea's border areas and the urgent need to establish permanent shelters for new refugees, urged UNHCR to "move more rapidly to construct additional refugee camps and transit facilities," but to "resist all pressures to construct new refugee camps in border areas" where danger predominated.

Aid workers eventually transferred more than 15,000 Liberian refugees from border sites to existing camps in Guinea farther from the border. Even in established camps, however, many new refugees were forced to live in large dormitory tents without privacy because shelter construction could not keep pace with the influx.

In addition to new arrivals directly from Liberia, at least 1,000 Liberian refugees entered Guinea from refugee sites in Côte d'Ivoire that had become unsafe because of civil war in that country.

By year's end, an estimated 110,000 Liberian refugees lived in Guinea, including about 50,000 in camps and up to 60,000 who lived on their own, integrated among local residents in small villages and towns. About 1,000 lived in Conakry, the capital.

The largest camp, Kouankan, housed about 30,000 refugees in the Nzerekore area of southern Guinea's remote Forest Region. Kola camp, located about 50 miles (80 km) from the Guinea-Liberia border, sheltered about 6,000 refugees. Laine camp, built in 2002, sheltered about 7,000 Liberians. Several camps in the Kissidougou area of Guinea held about 8,000 Liberian refugees.

Food deliveries reached all camps without serious interruption during the year, and several thousand refugees worked with local residents on agricultural projects. Nearly 22,000 Liberian refugee students attended schools.

As in previous years, poor cooperation between Liberian refugee leaders and aid workers hindered assistance and protection efforts, particularly in Kouankan camp. Armed Liberian rebels known as Liberians United for Reconstruction and Development, based in Guinea, routinely entered Kouankan camp, confiscated relief items, and reportedly engaged in forced conscriptions.

Refugee leaders associated with the rebels blocked humanitarian agencies from conducting a camp census in August, reportedly to sustain inflated population estimates and discourage cutbacks in food aid.

UNHCR urged Guinean officials to remove rebels from the camp and threatened to withdraw from Kouankan entirely, unless the situation improved. As the year ended, government authorities and UNHCR were considering closing Kouankan and moving occupants to a new location.

A USCR report in July recommended distribution of identity cards to the Liberian refugee population – a step that Guinean officials have blocked for several years because of a dispute with UNHCR over a printing contract for identity documents. "The Guinean government should facilitate rather than obstruct the printing and distribution of refugee identity cards," USCR stated. "It is mutually beneficial to the security of refugees, local residents, and government personnel for refugees to carry documentation that clearly identifies them as genuine refugees under the care and protection of UNHCR."

Refugees from Sierra Leone

Approximately 70,000 Sierra Leonean refugees lived in Guinea at the end of 2002. They fled to Guinea during the 1990s because of civil war and human rights violations in Sierra Leone.

An estimated 120,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have departed Guinea to return home to Sierra Leone during the past two years, including some 50,000 returnees during 2002.

About 20,000 repatriated with UNHCR assistance during the year, while 30,000 or more traveled home on their own.

Most repatriations occurred during the first half of the year, as refugees rushed home to participate in Sierra Leone's presidential election in May and plant crops at the start of the rainy season.

UNHCR conducted an information campaign using radio broadcasts, videos, and group presentations to inform refugees of conditions in Sierra Leone so that families could make educated decisions about the timing of their repatriation.

The organized repatriation operation encountered problems moving refugees home throughout the year. Busloads of returning refugees traveled for two days from refugee camps to reach the only border crossing point opened by Guinean authorities for repatriation activities.

As border security conditions improved in the second half of the year, government officials finally considered opening additional border crossing points that were more convenient to Guinea's refugee camps.

UNHCR suspended repatriation convoys for six weeks in July and August because of vehicle shortages in Sierra Leone. Lack of money and concerns about humanitarian conditions in Sierra Leone prompted UNHCR to cancel organized repatriation movements from Guinea in the final months of the year.

The 70,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remaining at the end of 2002 included about 40,000 in four camps, and an estimated 30,000 who lived on their own, primarily in isolated border areas. About 3,000 resided in Conakry.

Aid workers provided food, health care, sanitation facilities, and other services to the camps. About 13,000 refugee children attended schools. Some 7,000 refugees received seeds and tools for farming. Aid workers repaired about 30 miles (50 km) of roads linking three refugee camps to each other and to the nearest large town, Kissidougou.

After years of delay, government officials began to distribute identity cards to Sierra Leonean refugees in late 2002, a step intended to protect the refugee population from arbitrary arrests and harassment by local security personnel. UNHCR reportedly took steps to improve security patrols at refugee sites.

Refugees from Côte d'Ivoire

An eruption of civil war in Côte d'Ivoire in late 2002 pushed at least 2,000 Ivorian refugees into Guinea.

Guinean officials initially closed their border with Côte d'Ivoire and reportedly stopped many refugees from entering before reopening the border for humanitarian reasons weeks later. Some refugees temporarily hid in the countryside on either side of the border to avoid detection.

Some uprooted Ivorians reportedly posed as citizens of other West African countries to gain entry into Guinea.

As a result, in addition to 2,000 new refugees who registered with authorities, it is possible that several thousand more Ivorian asylum seekers entered Guinea and chose to remain unregistered and uncounted in border communities.

"Despite a de jure closing of the border ... due to security concerns, the Guinean government has allowed those in distress to seek refuge in Guinea," the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported at year's end.

The 2,000 registered refugees from Côte d'Ivoire moved into a transit camp near the Guinea-Liberia border while awaiting repatriation or transfer to a more permanent camp in Guinea.

Uprooted Guineans

Tens of thousands of Guineans became internally displaced in 2000–2001 when Sierra Leone's civil war spilled into Guinea's border areas. The violence left several border villages heavily damaged.

The overwhelming majority of uprooted Guineans fled to the homes of friends and relatives in nearby towns or in other regions of the country, where many of them have settled permanently.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that it provided reintegration assistance to 40,000 Guineans who returned to their homes in relatively quiet border areas during 2001–2002. ICRC distributed blankets, soap, seeds, and tools to some 12,000 persons who remained displaced during 2002.

"The lack of agreed figures on the number of internally displaced persons, combined with the lack of precise information on [their] needs ... in host communities and in the areas of origin, have constrained donor community support," a UN report concluded in May.

About 30,000 Guinean citizens who had immigrated to Côte d'Ivoire returned to Guinea late in the year when civil war broke out in Côte d'Ivoire, endangering foreigners.

Most arrived in Guinea's remote Forest Region, while several hundred arrived by plane in Conakry. Local Red Cross workers provided food, water, and other short-term assistance as the returnees traveled to home villages throughout Guinea.

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