Sat Jul 14 18:24:37 EDT 2007
October 19, 2000
Threat of Widening War in West Africa;
400,000 Refugees in Guinea Are Vulnerable
The West African country of Guinea--which has hosted more refugees than any
other country in
Africa for much of the past decade--finds itself edging closer to the brink
The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) calls on the international community
to respond with
greater urgency to the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in
Guinea, and to take all
necessary steps to protect an estimated 400,000 refugees from other
countries who live in Guinea
and face special protection problems. A USCR policy analyst is currently in
the region to assess the
Guinea, bordering the war-ravaged countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, has
suffered 15 insurgent
attacks that have killed some 360 people during the past year, according to
the Guinean government.
The attacks are believed to have come from Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Uncounted numbers of
Guineans have become internally displaced in the widening violence, and the
number of uprooted
people could grow if attacks continue.
Guinean troops allege that they shot down a Liberian military helicopter
yesterday along the border
between the two countries. Liberian officials deny the incident occurred.
The governments of Guinea
and Liberia have regularly accused each other of supporting armed attacks in
border areas. The
newest allegations, true or not, are certain to heighten military tensions
and will create greater risks for
residents and refugees who inhabit border villages and camps.
The widening cross-border violence has begun to destabilize Guinea and has
triggered a violent
backlash in recent weeks against the hundreds of thousands of Liberian and
Sierra Leonean refugees
who have sought protection in Guinea from years of bloodshed in their own
countries. After years of
relative hospitality toward refugees on their soil, Guinean authorities and
segments of Guinean society
increasingly blame the refugee population for bringing the violence of
Sierra Leone and Liberia into
Guinean officials currently accuse Sierra Leonean refugees of harboring
Sierra Leone's notorious
Revolutionary United Front rebels-a dubious accusation given that the
refugees originally fled to
Guinea to escape those same rebels. Refugees in Guinea have suffered a
series of violent attacks,
rapes, detentions, and Guinean government-sponsored anti-refugee propaganda
Humanitarian aid and protection for the refugees have virtually ceased since
a UN relief worker was
killed in Guinea Sept. 17 in a cross-border attack from Liberia.
Although tensions have risen dramatically in recent weeks, the potential for
widening violence was
apparent a full year ago. A USCR report in November 1999 warned that the
"potential for additional
security incidents remains high, particularly in border areas and refugee
zones of Guinea.... Odds are
high that security incidents will occur in 2000." USCR warned last November
that many refugees
living in Guinea "have encountered increased harassment and detention by
Guinean police and
military, including detentions, physical threats, and demands for bribes."
One of the largest international humanitarian agencies operating in Guinea,
the International Rescue
Committee (IRC), reported Monday that "hospitality toward refugees has run
dangerously low" in
Guinea and warned that "without immediate assistance, refugees in Guinea
face widespread food
shortages." IRC and other relief agencies have temporarily suspended most
emergency aid programs
in Guinea because of security concerns.
"We need assurances of security for refugee and local Guinean populations
along the border, and safe
access to refugee populations," IRC reported. "The government of Guinea has
the responsibility to
ensure the safety of refugee populations and humanitarian operations."
USCR concurs with the IRC recommendations. The Guinean government and the
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should immediately identify acceptable new
sites in Guinea to
transfer refugee camps away from their current dangerous border locations.
USCR urges the UN
refugee agency to assign--immediately--additional high-level emergency staff
to Guinea to augment
the efforts of UNHCR's depleted relief contingent in the country.
International donors, including the U.S. State Department's refugee bureau,
pledge the $13 million or more that UNHCR needs to strengthen its staff in
Guinea and to establish
safer new refugee camps there. The U.S. government, which currently has
U.S. military personnel in
Guinea helping to train Guinean troops, should press Guinean authorities to
discipline their own troops
and civilian militia and should push Guinean authorities to provide proper
protection to refugees on
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