- Guinea has hosted half a million refuges from civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia over the past 16 years, at great cost for the country's land resources. As most refugees have no returned, the international community is to fulfil its pledge to Guinean authorities to rehabilitate the degraded areas that hosted the refugees.
Guinea's Minister of Territorial Administration, Kiridi Bangoura, has been responsible for the large in and outflow of refugees in the country for several years. While Guinea was a major host of refugees, UN agencies channelled some aid to the host areas, but Minister Bangoura early expressed concern that once the refugees had left Guinea, the international community would turn its back on the population that hosted them.
Now, however, the head of the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) has pledged to help raise funds to rehabilitate the areas that have hosted refuges from Sierra Leone and Liberia over the past 16 years. High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said yesterday the UN agency would appeal for support for Guinea after the remaining refugees left. Guinea still hosts some 120,000 mainly Liberian refugees, who are now being repatriated.
Mr Lubbers had met with Guinean President Lansana Conté, Minister Bangoura, as well as representatives of donor countries and other UN agencies in the Guinean capital, Conakry. Guinean authorities welcomed the ongoing repatriation efforts and the UN's help to Sierra Leone and Liberia "to consolidate peace."
However, Guinea is being left with a strongly degraded environment in its southern border areas. The heavily populated refugee camps, operated by UNHCR and Guinean authorities, were largely based on local land resources. Refugees collected and spent firewood for cooking, they used and degraded land and water resources and they hunted wildlife.
The land is being left over-exploited. "UNHCR is the only partner that can take leadership to organize a roundtable on solidarity with Guinea in the post-refugee situation," Minister Bangoura told Mr Lubbers. "There is a need to rehabilitate areas affected by 16 years of refugee presence, particularly in the area of Guékédou that needs reconstruction."
Guékédou - a town close to the borders of Liberia and Sierra Leone - was the heart of the refugee-hosting areas until southern Guinea fell under rebel attacks in 2000 while the vast majority of refugees were still living there. This was provoking the worst humanitarian crisis at the time.
Since the end of the 1990s, Guinea has been attempting to muster donor support to rehabilitate the environment and improve infrastructure that were strained by the long and heavy presence of refugees. However, the country failed to get a positive response from the international community, which has been linking its help to conditions like better governance and better management of public funds.
Mr Lubbers told the Guinean Minister that UNHCR would now advocate for support to Guinea following the withdrawal of the refugees. The refugee agency's representative in Guinea, Stefano Severe, added that meanwhile, US$ 300,000 in funds left over from the Sierra Leonean repatriation programme would be used for rehabilitation activities.
Guinea is one of the poorest countries in West Africa. Due to poor governance, lack of transparency and failure to repay its debts, the country has a troubled relation with the World Bank and the IMF. This again has led to sever cuts in financial aid and loans to the Guinean government and a retracting economy.
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