Guinea hosted about 390,000 refugees at the close of 2000, including an estimated 300,000 from Sierra Leone, and some 90,000 from Liberia.

An estimated 13,000 new Sierra Leonean refugees fled to Guinea during the year, while approximately 30,000 refugees repatriated from Guinea to Sierra Leone. About 10,000 Liberian refugees repatriated from Guinea. A relatively small number of refugees from Guinea Bissau in Guinea also returned home during 2000.

Some 60,000 Guineans were internally displaced at year's end. More than 3,000 Guineans applied for political asylum in Europe during 2000.

Refugees from Sierra Leone

A ten-year conflict in Sierra Leone has sent several waves of refugees into Guinea. Most Sierra Leonean refugees have been uprooted more than once. At the end of 2000, some 300,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remained in Guinea.

Sierra Leonean refugee camps were located in the southwestern and southeastern corners of Guinea, in the Forecariah and Gueckedou regions, respectively. Despite the relocation of some camps in 1999, many remained dangerously close to the border in 2000. (See Protection and Assistance below.)

Gueckedou hosted some 275,000 Sierra Leonean refugees, including an estimated 8,000 who fled to Gueckedou in July and August as a result of fighting in Sierra Leone. Forecariah hosted an estimated 25,000 refugees at year's end. The resumption of war in Sierra Leone in May caused some 5,000 new refugees to flee to Forecariah.

Refugees from Liberia

Some 10,000 Liberian refugees departed Guinea and returned home during 2000. At year's end, approximately 90,000 Liberian refugees remained in Guinea.

Most Liberian refugees fled to Guinea in the early 1990s to escape Liberia's civil war. Their numbers peaked at 300,000 to 400,000 by the middle of the decade. The end of Liberia's conflict in 1996 opened the door for large-scale repatriation. Since 1997, some 200,000 or more Liberians have repatriated from Guinea. Their exact numbers, however, are uncertain because the majority returned to Liberia spontaneously, without assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Most Liberian refugees lived in villages in Guinea's Forest Region, located north of the border with Liberia, near the Guinean towns of Gueckedou, Macenta, and Nzerekore. Only two UNHCR camps for Liberian refugees remained at the end of 2000: Koyama in Nzerekore; and Kouankan in Macenta. Early in the year, UNHCR transferred about 9,000 Liberian refugees who had arrived in mid-1999 to a newly established camp in Kouankan.

Refugees from Guinea-Bissau

Thousands of refugees from Guinea-Bissau fled to Guinea in 1998 during a military rebellion in their country. Some 2,000 settled in northern Guinea, in the region of Boke.

During the first half of 2000, about 200 families received food aid and limited medical assistance. In June, UNHCR repatriated approximately 500 refugees to Guinea-Bissau by plane. Many more spontaneously returned home on their own or settled in local communities and did not receive further assistance from UNHCR.

Armed Conflict in 2000

Warfare in neighboring Sierra Leone and parts of Liberia threatened to engulf Guinea in 2000.

In September, increasing political disaffection in Guinea, combined with deadly cross-border incursions from both Liberia and Sierra Leone, provoked an unprecedented political and military crisis and unleashed a campaign of violence and intimidation against the large refugee population living in Guinea. During September and early October, Guinea's long, porous border with Sierra Leone and Liberia suffered sporadic attacks, claiming the lives of several hundred people and displacing tens of thousands of civilians and refugees.

In late November and December, rebel forces from Sierra Leone, reportedly operating with Guinean dissidents and Liberian allies, concentrated cross-border attacks on southeastern Guinea. Rebels assaulted military garrisons, cut major roads and telephone lines, burned public buildings, and briefly occupied the major population center of Gueckedou, in southeastern Guinea. Ethnic violence increased in the neighboring province of Macenta, creating further population displacement.

Population Displacement

Cross-border violence and ethnic clashes produced significant population upheaval, beginning in September 2000. Civilians fled in all directions.

In southwestern Guinea, repeated attacks on Forecariah and Kindia in September and October temporarily displaced as many as 10,000 to 15,000 civilians. In southeastern Guinea's Forest Region, attacks on Macenta, Gueckedou, and Kissidougou in November and December increased the number of internally displaced persons.

In Macenta, armed incursions from Liberia ignited ethnic violence between local communities, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to flee to northern Guinea. In Gueckedou and Kissidougou, rebel incursions from Sierra Leone forced civilian populations to flee north and east. In early December, the governor of Nzerekore announced plans to relocate the entire civilian population away from a border area that had come under attack.

At year's end, Guinean government officials reported that the conflict had displaced more than 90,000 civilians and killed 360 to 600. Aid agencies estimated that the number of internally displaced Guineans ranged from 40,000 to more than 100,000. These figures were impossible to verify. The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) conservatively estimated that about 60,000 people were internally displaced in Guinea at the end of 2000.

Internally displaced families in host communities received humanitarian assistance. Because population displacement in September and October coincided with the harvest season, most civilians uprooted at the time returned home in a matter of weeks. Others found prolonged shelter among extended family or friends in other villages.

In October, the World Food Program (WFP) appealed for emergency food aid for 50,000 internally displaced persons. The UN Development Program disbursed emergency funds to respond to new humanitarian needs. The International Committee of the Red Cross distributed food, soap, and blankets to internally displaced persons in Forecariah, Kindia, and Macenta. By December, the desire of UN agencies to respond to the need of the displaced often raced ahead of measures to verify the number of beneficiaries.

War's Effect on UNHCR

The border war in Guinea claimed the life of one UNHCR staff member and severely hampered UNHCR's ability to assist and protect refugees.

A September rebel assault on Macenta killed UNHCR's head of sub-office and abducted another UNHCR staff member who was later released in Liberia. More than 50 people died in the attack. International aid agencies evacuated their staff from Forecariah, Gueckedou, Nzerekore, and Macenta.

USCR declared that "the UNHCR program for protection and assistance to refugees in Guinea is chronically underfunded by international donors, leaving dedicated humanitarian workers ... to put their lives on the line on behalf of the international community, with only half-hearted international support in return."

Most nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) resumed operations in Guinea's Forest Region in late September but relocated their base of operations to Kissidougou to distance themselves from the Liberia border. The continued suspension of UNHCR's operation until November hampered NGO efforts to assist refugees.

In late November and early December, the first rebel attacks on Gueckedou forced UNHCR to halt food distribution to refugees and recall its staff to Conakry, the capital, for the second time in three months. Rebels destroyed UNHCR's office in Gueckedou. Guinean soldiers requisitioned UN vehicles.

Refugee Protection and Policy

After years of relative hospitality toward hundreds of thousands of refugees, Guinean authorities' sentiments toward the refugee population became dramatically negative during 2000.

Guinean president Lansana Conte accused refugees in Guinea of harboring rebels. He appealed on national radio and television for Guineans to "bring together all foreigners. ... We know rebels are among the refugees. Civilians and soldiers, let's defend our country together. Crush the invaders."

Within hours, civilians joined newly formed militias and erected roadblocks. Mobs rounded up Sierra Leoneans and Liberians in urban areas, beating and raping refugees. Several thousand Sierra Leoneans and Liberians were temporarily detained. The Sierra Leonean embassy in Conakry sheltered up to 5,000 of its terrified citizens. Some 1,500 Liberians took refuge inside their embassy's compound. The majority of detainees were released within 72 hours.

UNHCR issued more than 2,000 "protection papers" to refugees in the capital in an effort to provide a measure of legal protection. Official refugee identification cards have never been issued in Guinea. Most Liberians and Sierra Leoneans were considered prima facie, or automatic, refugees.

Government officials later stated that Guinea was willing to continue hosting refugees. However, civilian militia continued to intimidate refugees, severely curtailing their freedom of movement, robbing relief convoys, and harassing aid workers. Each cross-border attack from neighboring countries aggravated anti-refugee sentiment among the local Guinean population.

In September and October, local militia or rebels destroyed two refugee camps in Forecariah, forcing refugees to flee back to Sierra Leone.

In December, at least two refugee camps in the Gueckedou area were attacked and burned by unknown assailants during repeated rebel incursions in the area. Thousands of refugees were forced to flee along with the local population.

In October, USCR conducted a site visit to Guinea to assess the humanitarian conditions and protection concerns among refugees. Many Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees told USCR that they preferred to run the risk of returning home rather than face continued threats and harassment in Guinea. In November, USCR advocated for the immediate deployment of a UNHCR emergency team to manage the growing crisis.

In December, in response to continued attacks on Guinea and violence against refugees, USCR issued a series of policy statements and advisories. USCR urged the government of Guinea to "immediately identify acceptable new sites in Guinea to transfer refugee camps away from their current dangerous border locations." USCR called on the international community to "protect Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees' right to asylum in Guinea."

USCR also made a case for decisive political action to address the causes of the widening regional conflict, calling on policymakers in the United States and at the United Nations to "consider imposing sanctions" on Liberia as a result of Liberian president Charles Taylor's ongoing support to Sierra Leonean rebels.

Despite public assurances that it would protect refugees, the Guinean government's policy toward refugees was uncertain at year's end. Some government officials wanted all refugees immediately repatriated; others wanted them transferred from border areas.

At years' end, UNHCR began facilitating repatriation from Guinea to Sierra Leone and began preparation of new sites to relocate refugee camps away from the border. However, ongoing violence prevented UNHCR and other relief agencies from reaching the vast majority of refugees in the southeastern area of Gueckedou during the final weeks of 2000.

Humanitarian Aid to Sierra Leonean Refugees

Budget shortfalls and armed conflict hampered humanitarian assistance during 2000. UNHCR's program in Guinea remained chronically underfunded and understaffed for most of the year.

The head of UNHCR, Sadako Ogata, declared that the region was "on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe," and said the situation in Guinea was her agency's "single biggest worry." The crisis attracted a sudden infusion of human and financial resources in late December.

UNHCR's program in Guinea has long suffered from uncertainty about the number of refugees in need of assistance. Humanitarian organizations provided aid on the basis of refugee registration cards, but not all refugees were registered, and not all registered refugees received assistance.

During the first half of 2000, UNHCR conducted refugee registration in Forecariah and refugee ration card verification in Gueckedou. In years past, official refugee fig ures in Guinea were typically inflated by about 30 percent. The registration in Forecariah revealed a similar finding, reducing UNHCR's official count from 60,000 refugees to 20,000 in the Forecariah region.

Verification of refugee ration cards in Gueckedou also significantly reduced beneficiary rolls. Refugees and some aid workers complained that UNHCR cut aid to family members unfairly.

A July report by the UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, which remained unpublished at year's end, noted that "even after the 2000 verification, there are still large numbers of people who complain that their names are inexplicably 'omitted' from the food lists when they are still meant to receive rations."

Disagreements persisted about the appropriate level of aid to refugees in Guinea. UNHCR's program assumed that most refugees who remained in Guinea for more than two years were self-sufficient. However, the UNHCR Evaluation Unit report argued that agricultural self-sufficiency was impossible for refugees to achieve. It found that economic survival for refugees, old and new, was primarily based on a variety of "low-paid casual and manual jobs, ranging from agricultural and domestic work to load carrying, or on very small petty trading activities such as selling palm oil or firewood."

The UNHCR report warned, "If refugees are unable to support themselves and food assistance is cut further, ... negative consequences in security terms can be expected." USCR called on UNHCR and donors to provide assistance to refugees "based on community needs assessments."

WFP reduced food rations by about a third during the year and cut 10,000 Sierra Leonean refugees from beneficiary rolls.

Some 60,000 Sierra Leonean refugees attended schools run by UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee. Ongoing instability and the evacuation of aid agency staff in September meant that refugee schools did not open during the last four months of the year.

Several international aid agencies supported income-generating activities for refugees such as baking, soap-making, tie-dying, and tailoring. However, refugees and local Guinean populations continued to suffer from inadequate health care and sanitation. Medicine was scarce, and health posts often stocked nothing more than aspirin.

UNHCR's budget in Guinea was 60 percent underfunded at mid-year, forcing a 20 percent budget cut across the board for all NGOs.

Beginning in September, security problems further curtailed humanitarian assistance to refugees. Repeated rebel attacks forced UN relief agencies to evacuate twice in three months, depriving refugees of international protection and assistance for prolonged periods. At year's end, border camps in the Gueckedou area had been cut-off from international assistance for more than a month. Religious missionaries reported dire humanitarian conditions.

A USCR advisory urged the U.S. government to disburse emergency funding "if UNHCR headquarters in Geneva moves decisively to reinvigorate and reinforce UNHCR-Guinea, providing the crisis management expertise and new vision necessary to respond to this mounting refugee crisis."

UNHCR dispatched three emergency teams to Guinea in mid-December. At year's end, the U.S. government authorized $5 million in emergency funds to support UN agencies' emergency programs. USCR welcomed these developments and noted that "other available funds should be allocated directly to NGOs in order to increase their capacity to respond effectively in instances where UNHCR cannot."

Sierra Leonean Repatriation

Tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees repatriated from Guinea on their own during 2000 because of mounting violence and harassment in Guinea, not because of peace at home.

The vast majority of returnees fled from Forecariah and Conakry. After attacks on refugee camps in Forecariah in September and October, thousands of refugees fled back to Sierra Leone on foot. Most boarded boats in Conakry bound for Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown.

UNHCR initially chose not to facilitate refugees' repatriation from Guinea. Refugees were often forced to pay bribes to Guinean soldiers for "protection" en route to Conakry. The local Catholic church began providing transport for refugees from Forecariah to the capital, and the Sierra Leonean embassy in Conakry chartered a ferry to take refugees back to Sierra Leone. Boats were dangerously overcrowded, families became separated, and refugees' belongings were looted at the port.

In December, UNHCR began to facilitate repatriation to government-held areas of Sierra Leone and improved transit facilities and monitoring at the port. By year's end, some 1,600 refugees had safely returned to Sierra Leone aboard a UNHCR-chartered ferry.

In late December, USCR publicly urged the international community to protect the refugees' right to asylum in Guinea. USCR cautioned that "refugees should have the right to choose between returning to Sierra Leone or moving to a safe location within Guinea where they can receive reliable international protection and assistance."

Many refugees in Guinea, repeatedly deprived of international protection and assistance, maintained that they wanted to return to Sierra Leone. However, 90 percent of refugees in Guinea were from rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone and were unable to return safely to their homes.

Humanitarian Assistance to Liberian Refugees

UNHCR assisted approximately 18,000 out of 90,000 Liberian refugees who remained in Guinea during 2000. WFP and UNHCR ceased food aid to Liberians at the end of 1999, on the assumption that most Liberian refugees were self-sufficient after living in local communities for a decade. Only 9,000 "new" Liberian refugees in Kouankan received food assistance in 2000. UNHCR provided medical and social services through the local Red Cross to particularly vulnerable Liberian refugees.

During USCR's site visit in October 2000, reports circulated that the Guinean government was supporting an armed Liberian dissident faction in Macenta, fueling a spiraling cycle of cross-border violence. Guinean government officials, however, blamed cross-border attacks on Liberian refugees living in the region.

The Guinean government declared in October that it would relocate all Liberian refugees into camps, even though the majority of Liberians in Guinea had integrated into local villages during the past decade. Continued insecurity at year's end prevented UNHCR's plan to transfer at least 30,000 Liberian refugees from Macenta town to camps in Nzerekore in accordance with government policy.

Some 25,000 Liberians attended refugee schools during 2000. The education program stopped at the end of the 1999-2000 school year. Ongoing instability and the evacuation of aid agency staff in September prevented UNHCR from starting a limited program to help Liberian refugees integrate into the Guinean school system at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year.

Liberian Repatriation

Growing instability in Liberia's border area discouraged many refugees from returning home during 2000.

At least 24,000 Liberian refugees registered to repatriate after the Guinea-Liberia border re-opened in March. Guinean officials had declared the border closed in August 1999 as a result of fighting in northern Liberia. Between May and June 2000, approximately 6,000 Liberians returned home with UNHCR assistance.

Refugee families who repatriated with UNHCR assistance received sleeping mats, buckets, and hoes before departing Guinea, and additional assistance after arriving in Liberia.

UNHCR suspended official repatriation in July after Liberian officials arrested refugees who had repatriated with UNHCR assistance. In late September, the assistant UN high commissioner for refugees, Soren Jessen-Petersen, visited Liberia and concluded that the country was "too dangerous for the UN refugee agency to support the return of refugees" living in Guinea. ''We are afraid that the time is not ripe for the refugees to return, " he declared.

Hundreds of Liberian refugees who had taken refuge in their embassy compound in Conakry during anti-refugee violence returned home late in the year with assistance from their government. An unknown number repatriated on their own.


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