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UNHCR starts evacuation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's southeast

UNHCR starts evacuation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's southeast

Refugees at Katkama camp
Twenty-five trucks from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) left the Guinean town of Kissidougou early today to begin the evacuation of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees from the isolated Parrot's Beak region in the southeast of the country.

The evacuation was scheduled to begin at the furthest tip of the Parrot's Beak, in Kolomba, where up to 30,000 refugees are gathered, UNHCR said in a statement issued today in Geneva.

The Parrot's Beak, a stretch of Guinean territory that extends into Sierra Leone, has been largely cut off from humanitarian aid since last September because of fighting in the region. The relocation by UNHCR aims to move the refugees inland to safer and more accessible camps.

In today's first convoy, as many as 1,000 refugees are expected to be make the 8-hour 120-kilometre journey from Kolomba to a transit camp in Katkama, north of the town of Gueckedou. After two to three nights there, the refugees will be transferred further north to new sites in Dabola and Albadaria Prefectures, some 200 kilometres from the conflict-ridden border area.

As of Tuesday evening, UNHCR staff in Kolomba had registered 600 refugees who had volunteered to relocate. Some refugees are, however, still reluctant to move, preferring to "wait a little longer" in hopes the security situation will improve so they can return home, the agency said.

UNHCR has explained that it cannot provide regular assistance to the volatile border area and can only assure aid in the new sites. The agency expressed hope that the start of the relocation convoys today would help build the refugees' confidence in relocation as the best immediate option.