Dear Friends
Please find below a report of Human Rights Watch on another refugee
crisis in Africa. It is time for all those concerned to act. Please
tell whatever action you or your organisation decides to do in this

The Refugee Crisis in Guinea: Another Macedonia?
By Rachael Reilly(**) October 3, 00

The parallels between the current crisis in Guinea and the situation in
Macedonia at the onset of the Kosovo refugee crisis in 1999 are
striking. The international response to both situations could not be
more different.

Guinea is host to the second largest refugee population in Africa - just
under half a million refugees, 330,000 from Sierra Leone, and 126,000
from Liberia. Despite sheltering refugees from the turmoil in these
countries for the past decade, it has received little international
recognition and even less support for its long record of generous

Today Guinea faces a crisis of major proportions. The security situation
in the sub-region has deteriorated drastically over the past months.
Tensions have risen between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, each
accusing the other of supporting rebel activity. A series of
cross-border attacks from both Liberia and Sierra Leone between August
and October have claimed the lives of hundreds and injured many others.
Most of these attacks have occurred close to the Sierra Leonean and
Liberian borders, exactly the same areas where the refugee camps are
located. The town of Macenta on the Liberian border was attacked on
Friday, September 29, claiming 67 lives and forcing both Guineans and
refugees to flee the area.

The Guinean government has responded to these attacks by blaming the
refugees on its territory. In early August, Guinea closed its borders
with Sierra Leone, fearing further incursions by RUF rebels. By mid
August as many as 10,000 refugees trying to flee into Guinea to escape
RUF atrocities in Sierra Leone were trapped on the Sierra Leonean side
of the border - most of them women and children. Conditions on the
border were appalling and UNHCR reported that at least one pregnant
woman and three children died while waiting to cross into Guinea.

The situation for refugees in Guinea worsened further on September 9
when the President, Lansana Conte, made an inflammatory broadcast in
which he blamed refugees for harboring rebels, declared that they should
all go home, and rallied the Guinean population to defend their country
and round-up all foreigners. These statements incited mob violence
against Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees living in and around the
capital, Conakry. For several days, armed groups of civilian militias,
police and soldiers broke into refugees' homes, beat, raped and arrested
them and looted their belongings. Over 5,000 people were detained and
hundreds more sought refuge in the Sierra Leonean and Liberian
embassies. Most of the refugees detained have since been released, but
hundreds remain in the embassies, too afraid to return to their homes.

Others have fled Guinea, many of them by boat back to Sierra Leone.
Despite pleas for calm after the September 9 broadcast and assurances by
Guinean government officials that Guinea would remain a safe country of
asylum for refugees, on October 2 President Conte again blamed the
refugees for the security, social and economic problems of his country
in a public speech commemorating Guinea's 42nd anniversary of

The situation for refugees in the camps remains extremely critical.
There have been reports of armed attacks on some of the refugee camps in
the Forecariah region along the Sierra Leonean border, forcing many of
the refugees to leave the area. The killing of the head of UNHCR's
office and abduction of another staff member in Macenta, on September
17, highlights the dangers for humanitarian workers in the area, as well
as for the refugees. The almost whole-scale withdrawal of international
staff from the border region, while very understandable in light of the
dangerous security situation, has left the refugees unprotected and
largely unassisted and renders the camps even more vulnerable to attack
with no outside witnesses. At the same time, Guinea's borders with
Sierra Leone and Liberia remain closed to refugees fleeing conflict and
human rights violations, and refugees in Guinea are faced with the
unenviable choice of remaining unprotected in Guinea, or returning to
Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The prognosis for Guinea is poor. The chances of more cross-border
attacks are high and the possibility of further retaliatory
attacks,round-ups and arrests of refugees is very likely, particularly
following President Conte's anti-refugee declarations of October 2. The
future of
safe asylum in Guinea is seriously at risk. The situation bears strong
parallels to Macedonia in April 1999. Like Guinea, Macedonia is a small,
relatively poor country in an unstable region with volatile neighbors.
Like Guinea, Macedonia feared that the rapid influx of hundreds of
thousands of Albanian Kosovar refugees would severely threaten its
national security. And, like Guinea, Macedonia closed its borders to the
fleeing refugees with serious humanitarian

But, the world's media is not congregated in Guinea as it was in
Macedonia, nor is the crisis occurring in the midst of the largest NATO
offensive ever in Europe. Within days of Macedonia closing its borders
western countries began an elaborate program of evacuating refugees.
Their rationale was to relieve the pressure and stabilize the situation
in Macedonia and thus ensure that the borders were kept open to Kosovar

Human Rights Watch criticized the disparity in the international
response to global refugee emergencies during the Kosovo crisis. We
asked whether the international community would be willing to intervene
to assist host countries elsewhere in the world in the same way as they
had assisted Macedonia, especially when the political and military
stakes were not so high. The current situation in Guinea provides our
answer. The response of western countries has been negligible, the
crisis has hardly touched the world media headlines, and there has
certainly been no airlifting of refugees to safety. Yet, the situation
in Guinea is as grave, if not graver, than the situation in Macedonia
during the Kosovo crisis.

The Guinean government must abide by its international obligations to
provide safe asylum and protection to refugees and not to return anyone
to a country where their life or freedom could be threatened.
The international community must act now to assist Guinea. Funding and
assistance must be provided:
-to help secure Guinea's borders and protect the refugees,
-to move the refugee camps away from the borders where they are
vulnerable to cross-border attacks, and to assist with screening the
refugees to separate out combatants, in accordance
with international standards. A regional solution must be sought to the

The international community cannot stand back and leave Guinea to cope
with this emergency alone.

** Rachael Reilly is the Refugee Policy Director for Human Rights
This commentary can be found at


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