LWF Moves To Help People Fleeing Ivory Coast Conflict

Dec 14, 2002 10:23 AM EST

GUELA, Guinea -- Lutheran World Federation LWF, a member of Action by Churches Together ACT International, has been active in providing humanitarian aid to people who are fleeing the conflict in the Ivory Coast and crossing the border into Guinea.

On December 3, LWF/ACT distributed blankets to the newly arriving refugees the border in Guela, Lola prefecture, following an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR earlier the same day.

In total 220 family heads and 961 beneficiaries were served. In Lola, another six bales of blankets were handed over to the Federation of the Red Cross to cater for the returnees in transit who stay for one or more days until they can find transport to their places of origin.

The border town, Guela, has seen a steady stream of returnees and refugees arriving daily. Although the Guinean security forces check the new arrivals for weapons, they have allowed people to pass through without problems. Most of the people stop at the border for at least one night, as almost all of them are arriving from Danane in the Ivory Coast on foot and are too tired to continue their journey the same day.

While at the border, the LWF distribution team counted 300 people crossing on the afternoon of December 3. The same day, the Federation of the Red Cross had registered 315 Guinean returnees and 267 foreigners - 128 Ivorians and 95 Liberians.

Since November 29, at least 3,262 people had crossed the border at Guela. Most of the people come from the Ivorian border town Danane or surrounding villages. On November 28, rebels took Danane, although according to eyewitnesses interviewed in Guela, the rebels had not targeted the population, rather firing their guns into the air.

Aircraft, said to belong to the Ivorian government, arrived on December 6, bombing Danane. People reported that the rebels hit one of the aircraft, causing it to crash. The new arrivals are returning Guineans, as well as Ivorians and Liberians.

There are also people from Mali and other West African countries amongst those crossing. The Guinean authorities have not stopped other nationals from entering Guinea, although the borders are still officially closed.

Some of the persons interviewed seemed very confused and disturbed. Most of the people are physically in good shape, although they had passed the last few days in the bush while walking the 75 km from Danane to Guela.

Some of the persons interviewed were separated from their families during their flight and some expressed concern as to whether their family members were still alive, as they had been separated during the bombing of Danane.

Agencies responding include the Guinean Red Cross and ICRC, registering those arriving across the border and distributing high protein biscuits to the family heads.

Although at first most people were drinking water from a little river that is situated between the border check points, this had been resolved as an International NGO installed a 5,000 litre "bladder tank" to treat water from the river, providing safe drinking water for new arrivals.

The LWF/ACT Mental Health Team has been asked by the UNHCR Health Co-ordinator to send a mobile metal health team to Guela to assist the new arrivals who are traumatised by the events and are having difficulties coping with their situation.

By Albert H. Lee
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