"These refugees, mostly women and children, arrived by foot and carried no belongings. They were exhausted and thirsty, but otherwise unhurt."
Astrid Castelei is in charge of operations for the UNHCR in southern Guinea. She and her team have been organsing the aid effort for Ivorian refugees in a transit centre in Bossou, a village in the Guinean region of Nzérékoré.
Local Guinean authorities informed us of the arrival of Ivorians in two border villages, Nzoo-Guela and Nyon. They told us they had fled their villages because they felt threatened by gangs of armed men.
The refugees are mostly women and children. They arrived by foot and carried virtually no belongings. This specific group comes from Yéalé, one of the only pro-Gbagbo villages in a region controlled by forces loyal to Ouattara. But the refugees in Liberia are mainly Ouattara supporters.
“Most of these refugees are farmers from small villages. They are worried about losing their land.”
Most of these refugees are farmers from small villages. Some have family in Guinea. Others try not to go too far from the border and their village. They hope to return there from time to time to check on their crops. They are afraid their fields will be looted, and are worried about losing their land during the political crisis.
We decided to gather all the refugees that arrived in Nyon and Nzoo-Guela in a single transit centre. Guinean authorities have put an old elementary school building in Bossou at our disposal. We work with local NGOs and the Red Cross to make sure the refugees get three warm meals per day. These are ‘prima facie’ refugees, that is to say that they are fleeing their country for obvious reasons. For now, we’re just dealing with their emergency needs. If in the long term they decide to remain in Guinea, then we will work with authorities to help them integrate society fully and earn an autonomous living.
Astrid Castelei with a group of Ivorian refugees that arrived in the villages of Nyon et à Nzoo-Guela, en Guinea. These refugees were transferred to a transit centre in Bossou.
Post written with France 24 journalist Peggy Bruggière.