Renewed Clashes in Guinea Displace Tens of Thousands
The International Rescue Committee reports the situation is dire for some 500,000 Liberian and Sierra Leoneon refugees and many local Guineans who are fleeing a resumption of violence in southeastern Guinea. "Masses of refugees have taken to the roads and have no access to aid," says Timothy Bishop, IRC's coordinator for West Africa. "Immediate assistance is needed to avert a humanitarian crisis."
The town of Gueckedou was attacked by suspected rebel groups from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in early December, ending a one-month lull in hostilities. Fierce clashes ensued between the rebels and Guinean government troops. The situation deteriorated further when rebels raided Kissidougou to the north.
The IRC and other NGOs evacuated staff members from Gueckedou and Kissidougou amid the spate of attacks. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the region, most moving north by foot, away from Guinea's volatile borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. Thousands of Guineans have also been displaced by the latest fighting.Violence broke out in Guinea in September of this year, creating turmoil in what had been a relatively secure area. Since, 1991 the International Rescue Committee had been operating schools for Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in the southeastern region. When the fighting erupted in September, the IRC was running 135 schools for more than 70,000 students. The IRC also had extensive programs aimed at protecting unaccompanied children and tracing and reunifying separated families. In addition, the IRC maintained comprehensive community health programs and sexual violence prevention programs.
The instability forced the IRC to suspend its Gueckedou-based programs and leave the region. But when violence quelled two months later, the IRC began establishing a new logistics and staffing base in Kissidougou. Those plans have now been put on hold. The IRC hopes to reopen its schools in Guinea at the earliest possible moment. In the meantime, IRC staff are looking into emergency camp construction, health, water, sanitation, and child tracing and reunification.
The IRC's office in Conakry has remained open and programs around the capital have continued. Programs in the Forecariah zone, however, remain closed due to continuing insecurity.
Since September, the IRC's Timothy Bishop has met regularly with U.S. government officials and representatives from other aid organizations to discuss a plan aimed at promoting stability in Guinea, protecting refugee populations and averting a further humanitarian crisis in the country.
"In the short term, we need assurances of security for refugee and local Guinean populations along the border and safe access to refugees," Bishop says. "In the long term, UNHCR and its partner agencies including the IRC will require significant financial assistance to reregister and recamp in safe areas, all or a portion of the massive refugee population in Guinea." And without immediate assistance, Bishop says, refugees in Guinea face widespread food shortages.
The Guinean government estimates that as many as one thousand people have been killed since September.