Since the start of 2001, waves of attacks by armed groups on refugee camps located in a small parcel of land in southwestern Guinea known as Langue de Gueckedou, or "Parrot's Beak," have placed more than 100,000 refugees who had escaped fighting in Sierra Leone and Liberia and tens of thousands of Guinean citizens at severe risk. With armed groups on all sides, it has been impossible for most of the people to escape, and very difficult for any humanitarian aid to reach those in need.
Refugees seeking safety in a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) camp following one of the more sustained attacks, on January 12, told volunteers of indiscriminate attacks, beatings, harassment, and killings of civilians. Dr. Morten Rostrup, president of MSF's International Council, spent several weeks in the region in December and January, and then addressed MSF's concerns to the Guinean government, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the U.N. Security Council. He called for the immediate evacuation and relocation of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees away from the border and farther into Guinea. He also warned against the repatriation of refugees to Sierra Leone, where conditions are still unsafe for most of them to return, and where many of the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) are already full beyond capacity.
Although plans exist to relocate the refugees farther inland, progress on implementing the plans has been slow. To bolster its advocacy efforts, MSF held a press conference in Brussels, and MSF offices around the world simultaneously dispatched press releases alerting their national media of this crisis.
When restarting the medical programs in Parrot's Beak in February, until just before renewed fighting in late March, MSF found that basic humanitarian assistance, (including food and medical assistance), was lacking in the refugee camps. Although food aid has begun to arrive in Parrot's Beak, Dr. Rostrup said aid alone was not the solution that the refugees needed. In fact, MSF is cautioning against large-scale food distribution, saying that it could create a false sense of security and might actually attract attacks from rebel groups.
MSF has been pressing for the evacuation of refugees from the volatile border region since the organization began working in Parrot's Beak in 1998, following an influx of 100,000 Sierra Leonian refugees into the area. Despite the deterioration of conditions in the past months, little has been done to move the population to safety.
"Urgent action is needed before it is too late," said Dr. Rostrup. "If the relocation is not implemented immediately, we may soon face a major humanitarian crisis."