Guinea: January-March 2003
30-06-2003 Operational Update
In Guinea, the first three months of 2003 were marked by the humanitarian fallout of the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire and the resumption of fighting in Liberia.
©ICRC/Christian Farnsworth/ref. GN-E-00014
Most of these people are Guinean, but some come from Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso or another country in the region. Although they all have different stories to tell and different needs, they have one thing in common: their lives have been thrown into disarray by conflict. They have often had to leave everything behind - the lives they had built for themselves, their friends and sometimes even members of their families - and travel through dangerous territory to reach the relative security of Guinea. The Guineans are back “home”, but many of them know very little about their country of origin, if anything at all, and do not necessarily find it easy to integrate. Some of the villages and subprefectures that have opened their doors to large numbers of returning Guineans are already in difficulty.
As new humanitarian dilemmas emerge against the backdrop of problems inherited from previous conflicts, the ICRC has developed a three-pronged operation in Guinea:
in partnership with the International Federation, it is bolstering the National Society’s operational capacity so as to enable the l atter to meet the needs arising from the fresh influx of people in the regions concerned;
it is evaluating humanitarian needs in the villages and subprefectures that have welcomed substantial numbers of Guineans returning home, with a view in the short term to expanding its water and sanitation programme, which already exists in Guinée forestière, to communities whose resources in water are already limited and for which the returning Guineans represent an extra burden;
it is restoring family ties, both for the new arrivals and for established refugees. Special emphasis is placed on unaccompanied children, who are particularly vulnerable and for whom the priority is to find and renew contact with their parents, and, if they wish, to reunite them with their families.
While these have been the priorities during the first few months of 2003, the ICRC’s other programmes in Guinea, namely visits to detainees and the implementation of international humanitarian law, an important activity carried out in cooperation with the Guinean authorities and the armed and police forces, have been pursued both nationally and regionally.
The ICRC delegation in Conakry and its three sub-delegations in N’zérékoré, Kissidougou and Kankan clearly did not want for work at the beginning of the year.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) opened an operational delegation in Conakry in 2001, after the humanitarian situation along Guinea’s borders deteriorated and in order to provide an effective response to humanitarian needs. It has been a ctive in Guinea since 1991, however, through its regional delegation in Abidjan. At present, the ICRC’s sub-delegations in Kankan, Kissidougou and N'zérékoré are staffed by 140 Guinean employees and 25 expatriates.
Working on the basis of the Agreement signed on 9 November 1999 with the Government of the Republic of Guinea, ICRC delegates regularly visit persons deprived of their freedom in the country. This traditional ICRC activity has a strictly humanitarian goal: to evaluate the conditions of detention. In the course of open and constructive dialogue with the detaining authorities, the ICRC issues whatever recommendations are required to improve the conditions of detention and to ensure the detainees receive humane and dignified treatment. Its delegates’ findings are confidential and transmitted exclusively to the authorities concerned.
In January and February 2003 the ICRC:
visited four places of detention and saw over 1,200 detainees, providing ad hoc assistance in the form of soap, chlorine and other toiletries in order to improve the conditions of hygiene;
funded renovation work on water and sanitary installations in Fria and Kissidougou prisons; the walls were repaired and repainted to keep out insects;
enabled 38 detainees, who are often unable to let their relatives know where they are being held, to write their families a Red Cross Message (RCM), an open letter containing only family news.
Through its Tracing Agency and by distributing RCMs, the ICRC enables family members separated as a result of conflict to find their next-of-kin, to let them know they are in another country, or simply to inform their relatives that they are safe and sound.
People from Sierra Leone and Liberia, for the most part, thus regularly exchange family news with relatives living in refugee camps or abroad. About 1,500 messages were collected and over 900 distributed during the first two months of the year.
For people who have recently arrived from Côte d'Ivoire, the ICRC put through over 260 phone calls to let the families know their loved ones were in Guinea.
Children who have lost their parents are registered and regularly visited by the ICRC. They write Red Cross messages to the members of their families, whom the ICRC tries to trace. The ICRC reunites the children with the families, once they have been located and with the agreement of all concerned. Between January and March 2003, 94 children from Sierra Leone and 39 from Liberia were reunited with their families. The ICRC has a house in Conakry where unaccompanied children on the way to be reunited with their families can stay.
During the first three months of 2003, the ICRC distributed medicines to three hospitals in the Guinean capital and in the forest-region prefectures of Faranah and N'zérékoré.
The ICRC evaluated the nutritional status and health of persons deprived of their freedom: the medical delegate visited Kankan Central Prison and the civilian prison in Guéckédou, and a te am of five delegates measured the body-mass index of people being held in Kankan and Conakry Central Prisons. The results were forwarded only to the authorities, with recommendations.
Assistance to displaced persons, returnees and residents who had suffered losses/damages: 1,891 families received non-food relief supplies, namely blankets, mats, pagnes, cooking utensils, soap and buckets. Sheets of plastic were distributed to families whose houses had been destroyed or damaged. This assistance was provided as part of the final phase of support for Guineans affected by the conflict of late 2000-early 2001.
When conflict destroys water supply and waste water systems, the ICRC helps restore access to drinking water and proper sanitary conditions. These are enduring problems that persist after the hostilities have ended. Indeed, months and even years can go by before such systems once again function normally.
The ICRC’s water and hygiene activities consist in ensuring that conflict victims have permanent access to drinking water and can live in adequate conditions of health and hygiene. The ICRC’s ultimate goal is to help reduce the risks of death, illness and suffering that arise when the habitat and water supply systems deteriorate.
In 2003, the ICRC is implementing projects:
to rehabilitate the operating theatre and surgical ward of Guéckédou hospital, where it is also renovating a water reservoir;
to rehabilitate the sanitation and drinking water infrastructure in places of detention in Conakry, Fria and Kankan, in agreement with the Ministry of Justice ;
to rehabilitate the water pumping, treatment and distribution system in the town of Macenta, in cooperation with the SEG (Guinea Water Services);
to prevent epidemics in Guinée forestière, improving sanitary conditions and access to drinking water and constructing 300 latrines for displaced persons in the villages of eight subprefectures around Macenta and N'zérékoré.
Under its mandate to protect and assist the victims of conflict, one of the ICRC’s tasks is to promote and strengthen international humanitarian law.
In 2003, the ICRC has:
furnished the Guinean authorities with legal advice and documentation concerning the implementation of humanitarian law at national level, in particular in terms of special protection for children in detention and in armed conflicts;
provided technical and financial support for the national campaign to heighten awareness of humanitarian principles among the security forces;
provided technical support for the armed forces’ humanitarian law office, and promoted humanitarian principles in dissemination meetings held in the military regions nationwide; one captain from the gendarmerie received a fellowship to attend a course on humanitarian law organized by the ICRC in Italy;
furnished documents on humanitarian law to students of international public law in Conakry and made presentations on humanitarian principles and the history of the Red Cross Movement at Conakry University.
The International Federation, the National Societies and the ICRC together make up the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. They share the same fundamental principles in terms of operating procedures, namely neutrality, impartiality and independence. In the Republic of Guinea, the ICRC is the Movement’s lead agency.
During the first three months of 2003, the ICRC continued to support the RCG in areas of ICRC expertise: preparedness for conflict-related emergencies, restoration of family ties and the dissemination of humanitarian principles.
The ICRC provides support for RCG activities to receive Guinean returnees and refugees arriving from Côte d'Ivoire at the entry points in Guinée Forestière and in Conakry. Thus, 4,500 people arriving by boat from Abidjan and several thousand arriving in Guinée Forestière (Lola, Beyla) received a hot meal prepared by RCG volunteers at transit centres before their onward departure for their prefectures of origin or handover to refugee aid societies. The same volunteers undertook to count the arrivals and to provide them with first aid, in cooperation with the authorities and local health facilities.
The ICRC oversees the work of the RCG volunteers and provides institutional and financial support to the RCG, in cooperation with the Federation.
The ICRC provides support for the RCG’s campaign to prevent misuse of the Red Cross emblem in Guinea.