|March 2001 | Archive | View images | © Robert Knoth
reportage Going home
|"We want to go home, back to Sierra Leone. It is not safe for us anymore" says Adama Diallo. After fleeing the war in his own country years ago, he is on the move again.
"We have sold everything we couldn't take with us, bought food and taken off. For weeks, our camp was in imminent danger of coming under attack from the rebels." Four days ago they left for Katkama, a refugee-camp just south of Kissidougou. From there Adama wants to try to make his way to Conakry, and then home by ship to Freetown. "We know there is still no peace in our country, but it is better than here. We're no longer welcome."
Adama and his family are relatively fortunate as they have enough money to obtain food for the journey and to bribe their way through hostile checkpoints. Most refugees remain trapped at 'Parrot's Beak', a narrow strip of territory in southern Guinea bordered by Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Assaults by RUF-rebels operating from Sierra Leone have effectively cut off the supply of food and medicine to the estimated 120,000 refugees in the area. Many of these refugees had fled their country earlier when the rebels were spreading terror in rural Sierra Leone. After a major attack by the RUF on the Guinean cities of Gueckedou and Macenta in December, President Conte of Guinea made a radio speech in which he condemned the presence of refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia. He accused them of supporting the rebels, of smuggling weapons and drugs and blamed them for the spread of Aids. Not surprisingly, this led to an explosion of violence; refugee-camps were set on fire and refugees were robbed, molested, raped or murdered both by local Guinean civilians and the Guinean military.
There seems little the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can do in this conflict. Formally there is an agreement with both Guinea and Liberia to create a safe corridor for the refugees to escape the area. In reality, refugees are stopped and sent back by furious crowds of Guinean civilians or forced to pay bribes to the corrupt Guinean military. Anyone suspected of collaboration with rebels is locked up and there are reports of people disappearing altogether. Refugees report that the Guinean authorities are preventing them from moving en masse, concerned that large-scale population movements could mask activities by rebel groups.
Because of the continuing threat of RUF-ambushes, UNHCR officials have so far refused to take action to evacuate the refugees from Parrot's Beak. Instead, at the end of February, the UNHCR started to bring in food transports escorted by the Guinean army. These food supplies were intended to strengthen the weakened refugees and so enable them to walk out of the volatile Parrot's Beak area on foot and find shelter in safer camps further inland.
However, a Medecins Sans Frontiers Doctors field worker commented: "Anyone carrying a machine gun will pursue the food supplies and the refugees will have nowhere to escape to." Indeed, within a week after the first food droppings new attacks by armed groups were reported.
|For an update on the situation of the refugees, visit the website of the UNHCR at www.unhcr.ch
To learn more about the backgrounds of the conflict causing the current refugee movements in the 'Parrot's Beak' area in Guinea read the excellent article 'The Guinea conflict explained' in the Africa section of the BBC-website
Also at the Africa section of the BBC-website: a set of explanatory maps and dates entitled 'West Africa's tangled ward'
Countless links to articles, websites, photographs, ngo's, news (and much more) regarding Sierra Leone can be found at www.sierra-leone.org
|March 2001 | Archive | View images | © Robert Knoth|