The U.N. refugee agency says it is planning two voluntary repatriation movements for Liberian refugees from Guinea this week. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva the agency hopes to help about 500 refugees return home.
The U.N. refugee agency says it has been more difficult to assist thousands of refugees under its care because of the periodic violent standoffs between Guinean security forces and civil protesters.
It says the situation in Guinea is increasingly complex and uncertain. It says the general strike and a government declared state of emergency is adding to the difficulties.
Nevertheless, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler says the agency has managed to carry out its humanitarian operations in the refugee camps throughout the recent crisis-though at a considerably reduced level.
"Over the past days, our field teams from N'zerekore in eastern Guinea visited refugee camps at Laine and Kouankan. According to their reports, the situation in the camps remains orderly and calm," he said. "Despite growing difficulties for the general population to obtain basic necessities, no tensions were reported between the refugees and local Guineans in communities surrounding the camps."
The site at Laine hosts about 11,000 Liberian refugees. Spindler says the World Food Program completed a distribution of food to this camp a couple of days ago without any incident. He says WFP also had no problem distributing food to 7,000 refugees in another camp. He says WFP plans to assist some 3,000 Ivorian refugees at a third camp later this week.
"UNHCR also continues to monitor the situation along Guinea's borders, but no major population movements have been reported in any of the neighboring countries," said Spindler. "Guinea still hosts more than 31,000 refugees, including nearly 22,000 Liberians. In addition, there are some 5,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and 4,500 from Cote d'Ivoire."
Aid agencies are warning that civil war in Guinea could seriously affect neighboring countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, which only recently emerged from devastating long-lasting wars of their own.
The UNHCR has repatriated some 90,000 refugees to Liberia since it began its voluntary return program for Liberians in October 2004. More than half of the returning refugees went home from exile in Guinea.