Conakry-Guinea — An ECOWAS delegation has concluded a nine-day mission to Guinea along with officials from the African Development Bank (ADB) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to evaluate regional projects for the resettlement and reintegration of Community citizens displaced by conflicts in the region.
The refugee resettlement and reintegration programme in Guinea is within the framework of the ADB Support to ECOWAS for Peace and Development Project (PADEP), being implemented through the ECOWAS Peace Fund in partnership with the UNHCR. The ADB has provided financial support of about six million US dollars to ECOWAS for the benefit of conflict-displaced Community citizens in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea Bissau, with the UNHCR as ECOWAS' lead in- country implementing partner for the programme.
On arrival on 18th August 2012, the team held a briefing meeting with officials of the UNHCR Guinea Country Office led by Mr. Aime Wata, the acting Country Representative. The ECOWAS delegation was later joined by an ADB Consultant, Mr. Adamou Issaka, after another meeting with the President of the Guinea National Commission for the Integration of Refugees (CNIR), Mr. Fode Keita, also in Conakry.
Mr. Keita explained that Guinea was currently supporting more than 16,000 refugees from other ECOWAS Member States namely Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Liberia, where the majority of refugees are from. After the briefings, the joint ECOWAS-ADB-UNHCR delegation then made a four- day field trip by road to the two refugee camps in Laine and Kouankan I, both in Guinea's Forest Region located more than 1,000 kilometres from the nation's capital Conakry.
At Laine, the joint mission was shown the projects being implemented with the PADEP funding by the Protection officer of the UNHCR N'zerekore sub-office, Mr. Eric Gervier and his team as well as officials of the local implementing partner, the Organization for Community Integration and Development (ODIC). The Laine projects included some of the 74 housing units for more than 200 families, a bore hole, a fishing pond and a piggery, part of the income- generating activities for the refugees. At the Kounankan I Camp, the visiting team was shown two bore holes and some of the 85 housing units. One of the integrated Liberian refugees, Mr. Vonter Wilson, 46, who said he fled the war in his country to Guinea in1993, told the visitors that he has since set up a mobile phone accessories' shop with the facility he received under the ECOWAS PADEP programme.
To date, ECOWAS has disbursed more than US$1.2 million to Guinea under the PADEP programme, which was started in 2005 in the four countries as part of efforts to promote peace and regional integration by catering to the needs of Community citizens displaced by conflicts. Mr. Gervier explained that under a decision in 2007 to discontinue direct assistance, refugees were expected from that date to sustain themselves by cultivating or running small businesses through income-generating activities. But with the expiration of the Cessation Clause on 30th June 2012, he said, there were now three categories of Liberian refugees in the two Guinea Camps - some 5,000 refugees that have opted for voluntary reparation, those who have applied for exemption/resettlement and those who have chosen reintegration. Efforts are at an advanced stage to repatriate those who have signified their willingness to return home.
While expressing their gratitude to the Government and people of Guinea, as well as to ECOWAS and partners for supporting them, the refugees have appealed for more assistance to make their conditions of living more comfortable. On behalf of the ECOWAS Commission, the ECOWAS team commended the Guinean Authorities and the host communities for their solidarity with needy citizens from other Member States, noting that this spirit is in consonance with the objective of the ECOWAS Vision 2020 of a citizen-driven regional integration.
Echoing the sentiment of the ECOWAS Vice President during a similar visit to Liberia in May 2012, the team encouraged partners and stakeholders to play their part more effectively for the realization of the PADEP and ECOWAS goals of promoting peace, security and stability in the region by providing timely and meaningful assistance to vulnerable and displaced citizens. Speaking during that visit to a Resettlement Estate for displaced Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, Vice President Toga McIntosh affirmed that resettlement and reintegration of ECOWAS citizens displaced by conflicts is a priority critical to the region's overarching people-centred integration and development objective. The ECOWAS evaluation mission to Guinea comprised Mrs.
Gloria Ugwunze from the Peace Fund Unit, Mr. Usman Obeche of the ECOWAS Emergency Response Team (EERT) Unit, under the Humanitarian and Social Affairs Directorate and Mr. Paul Ejime of the Communication Department.