U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau hosted about 7,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2001, including approximately 6,000 from Senegal and up to 1,000 who were primarily from Sierra Leone. About 5,000 new Senegalese refugees fled to Guinea-Bissau during the year, but some repatriated before the year ended.

Thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons who had fled their homes in Guinea-Bissau in 1998 returned home during 1999-2000 and continued the difficult process of reintegration during 2001. Relatively few refugees from Guinea-Bissau remained outside the country.

Refugees from Senegal

An 18-year insurgency in southern Senegal has periodically pushed refugees into Guinea-Bissau.

An estimated 5,000 Senegalese refugees and asylum seekers lived in Guinea-Bissau at the start of 2001. Renewed fighting in Senegal in early 2001 forced some 5,000 new refugees into Guinea-Bissau, but many of the new arrivals and some long-term refugees returned to Senegal later in the year.

Authorities in Guinea-Bissau and Senegal have long suspected that some of the refugees and asylum seekers were Senegalese rebels or rebel supporters. Government officials in Guinea-Bissau renewed their efforts to transfer the refugee population to locations farther from the long 200-mile (320 km) border, but most refugees resisted the move and chose to repatriate or to live on their own in the border area.

The border region remained dangerous during the first half of 2001, beset by fighting between the Guinea-Bissau military and Senegalese insurgents who used the zone as a base of operations. Insurgent factions also clashed with each other. Many civilians, presumably including refugees, reportedly died in the cross fire. The Guinea-Bissau military burned some refugee homes in May and was suspected of forcing some refugees to repatriate, according to a UN report in June.

The border area quieted in the second half of the year, although Senegalese rebels continued to loot homes and ambush vehicles.

At year's end, about 500 Senegalese refugees lived at Jolmete camp, about 25 miles (40 km) from the border. Refugees at the camp received health services and clean water, access to schools, skills training, and small-business loans.

Despite the continued presence of refugees in Guinea-Bissau, budget constraints forced the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to close its office at year's end and shift responsibility for monitoring refugees' needs in Guinea-Bissau to staff in neighboring Senegal.

Refugees from Sierra Leone

Hundreds of Sierra Leonean refugees lived in Guinea-Bissau at the start of 2001 because of continued warfare in their own country. Hundreds of additional Sierra Leonean refugees fled to Guinea-Bissau early in the year when their refuge in neighboring Guinea became unsafe.

Many of the new arrivals reached Guinea-Bissau by sea, aboard small fishing vessels. They found shelter each night in the market area of the capital, Bissau, and survived without proper refugee documentation by engaging in manual labor or relying on charitable organizations.

Reintegration in Guinea-Bissau

Domestic political violence in 1998 forced about one-third of the country's 1 million people to flee their homes. Although virtually all the uprooted people returned to their homes within two years, political tensions and widespread poverty made their reintegration difficult.

Political divisions within the government worsened in 2001. A UN assessment in September concluded that "the inexperienced government has been rendered practically non-functional." An alleged military coup in December failed. A report by the UN secretary general in December warned that the country's restoration of democracy in 1999 had "failed to deliver the stability and progress the people wanted and justly deserve." The UN report described the country as potentially "volatile."

Social conditions remained grim for the entire population, including returnees. Labor unrest was widespread, and the mortality rate for children under age five was 20 percent.


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