Sierra Leonean refugees slowly integrate in Guinea

Conakry- Guinea (PANA) -- The Guinean government and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, are still continuing to integrate 14,000 to 15,000 Sierra Leonian refugees in southern Guinea in a process begun in 2004.
The Sierra Leoneans fled the civil war in their country in the 1990s to settle in that part of Guinea bordering Sierra Leone.
Some 172 Sierra Leonean families locally integrated were supported, between 2004 and 2006, by the UNHCR, which provided them with a three-month assistance.
They were provided "$150,000 in financial support, while $100,000 supplement is being currently negotiated," according to André Abel Barry, UNHCR integration officer in Conakry.
"Each integrated unmarried person received 450,000 Guinean francs per month (1 USD = 5,300 GF).
UNHCR takes into consideration the currency's fluctuations and makes the necessary adjustments each time the Guinean currency falls," the UN official told PANA, He explained that if Conakry is not among sites identified to host the refugees it is due to the high cost of living prevailing in the capital.
Refugees living in rural areas are an example of a successful integration.
Therefore, although Boréah, a remote city in the forest, ceased being used as a reception site in 2005, refugees have settled there and developed maize, rice and fonio after they were provided with seeds and fertilisers.
Solidarity was also a feature in this small city, with the local population accepting to make farmland available to the refugees.
Similar examples exist in the cities, with refugees catering for their own needs with revenue gains from their commercial activities.
Sitan Faya, 30, a married woman and mother of six children, has definitely settled at the Kissidougou market, where she sells peanut oil in order to help her husband, now one of the most sought for tailors in the locality, to support their family.
Although her job is not easy, she refuses to complain.
But some refugees are not happy with their fate.
Gladys Moreba, 60 and a rather grumpy person, cannot stop moaning, saying she is unhappy with the conditions experienced in Guéckédou, a city which fell 2001 into the hands of Liberian rebels for several days and where she has voluntarily accepted to settle.
"How can one explain that I am regularly compelled to beg for my daily living?," retorts Gladys, who fled Kaila, in Sierra Leone, and lives in Guinea since 1991.
However, after she was challenged by Philippe Creppy, the head of the local UNHCR office, rather disappointed with her tears, she easily admitted that UNHCR helped her launch her commercial activities at the Yenguéma market, which regularly attracts merchants from neighbouring countries.
"Our motto comes down to respect of all refugees' dignity and security," said this former Commandant of the Ivorian navy, to explain how patient he has to be to deal with Gladys' whims.
The lady is an example of the type of refugees who like distorting facts in order to have their constantly growing needs satisfied".
Moussa Mansaré, another disgruntled refugee, also lives in Boréah, where refugees continue their income generating activities despite the UNCHR's withdrawal.
This father of six is not satisfied with his conditions in Guinea "because each time I have a small problem with the local population they call me a rebel.
My wish is for the UNHCR to find me another country, like Great Britain," he complained, while regularly pulling on his old belt barely holding back his slack jeans.
Stamping his feet with anger, he insists that his suffering appears to have no end in this city without schools.
In fact, school-age children living in the city spend most of their time playing in the vast areas where the school building have started to fall into ruin.
Stéfano Severe, the UNHCR representative, told PANA that when the institution decided to stop its assistance to the refugees in Boréah, it had made it clear to repatriate some refugees and resettle others.
It was therefore natural to close the schools.
Hence the launch of the voluntary integration process which leaves the refugees free to decide if they want to be repatriated or to remain in the country.
Severe further said despite the decision by some refugees to remain in Boréah, UNHCR signed an agreement with the NGO International Rescue in order for pupils receive lessons in French, but the initiative has failed to yield the expected results.
It was not a surprise, considering that these refugees, who hailed from Sierra Leone, an English-speaking country, are somewhat reluctant to have their children taught in French.
One understands why the Integration officer insisted on the fact that "UNHCR works to help pupils register in Guinean schools, provided parents express such a wish".
A GF 60,000 bonus is made available to families for each under-16 pupil in order to help them buy textbooks and school uniforms.
The site of Boréah, which is monitored by elements from the combined security brigades (BMS), lacks a health center, leaving patients with no other possibility than being referred by ambulance to Kissidougou, some 45 km away.
The work of the UNHCR coordination office is becoming more and more difficult, with the necessity to deal with the problem caused by "spontaneous refugees", mainly women and men aged between 20 and 60, apparently disreputable, if one judges by the way they are dressed, and unable to produce a single identity paper, wandering about days and nights.
These dubious-looking refugees, who are not registered as legally recognized refugees, never express the desire to return in their country.
"That poses no problem," says a reassuring Samoura Kéma, head of UNHCR, referring to the "free movement of goods and persons" in the ECOWAS space.
However, the population makes no mistake, just like some Sierra Leoneans, who suspect these people living on the fringes of society of having done something wrong during the civil war that tore their country.
"They are former rebels," says Alhassane Sylla, a journalist from Sierra Leone presently living in Guinea.
That explains why they do not want to return home, where calm and peace have been restored.
Many UNHCR officials share the same view, affirming that these people have relatives and friends who live in Europe or in Australia and advise them to spare no effort in order to have the UN agency take them fully in charge.
According to Severe, you often have instances when part of the family returns to Sierra Leone while the other chooses to remain in Guinea, waiting for resettlement.
The fate of these refugees, whose status will be defined by a study to be soon finalised, seems to have ceased being considered as an issue by the Guinean and Sierra Leonean governments.
The future will not be easy for those refugees who have not finalized their own integration before the end of September, period set for the UNHCR's withdrawal from Kissidougou, as the residual groups will be transferred in other camps in the country's forest region.

14 september 2006 16:34:00

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