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Some people keep fields in Sierra Leone . . . Children are made use of more. . . . Thirteen to sixteen year old kids have to carry nineteen kilograms. It's a hard strain, but the parents don't have any choice. . . . It is not far from here to Kumatandu, the border crossing point. Both parents and their children go. If the parents want more, they use their kids to carry some of the load. That's a long walk with hills. It's a forest journey. And it's dangerous by the border! 25
Assistance Available
The lack of food security is a root cause of many of the protection issues discussed in this report. Although the refugees should receive sufficient basic food assistance, this is not always the case in practice.

The World Food Program (WFP) is responsible for distributing food assistance to the refugees in Guinea, in coordination with UNHCR and NGO implementing partners. The basic ration each refugee who arrived since February 1998 is supposed to receive, according to UNHCR, is a nine kilogram package made up of bulgur wheat, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, and pulses (beans) every forty-five days, or 2100 kcal per day per refugee.26 Some refugees, including those termed "vulnerables" (including unaccompanied minors, elderly, blind, and single-heads of households) and those with malnutrition, qualify for additional assistance. School children in some camps also have access to school canteen feeding programs. A small percentage of refugees also participate in a food for work program administered by WFP.27 Nevertheless, many of the refugee children and families interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that they do not receive enough assistance to meet their daily needs. Human Rights Watch identified significant gaps in registration of refugees, distribution of food, and monitoring by UNHCR staff that contribute to the lack of food security.

UNHCR faces significant obstacles in providing adequate assistance to the Sierra Leonean refugee population in Guinea, not least that the international community has provided relatively little funding for these refugees. The large number of camps dispersed in the border area and the poor state of roads to many camps complicate distribution of aid by humanitarian agencies, especially during the rainy season.

Refugees must register with UNHCR in order to be eligible to receive distributions of assistance. Most refugees registered when they arrived in 1998. However, due to logistical difficulties, UNHCR was not able to register many refugees who arrived in early 1998, including some separated children and their caregivers. Consequently, these refugees had not received any food distributions up to the time of our interviews in March 1999.

UNHCR conducted a refugee census in February 1999, partly to remedy this problem. The census was also intended to ascertain an accurate count of refugees to better plan assistance and to eliminate corruption, which has been a significant problem in the camps.28 Due to concerns about corruption, UNHCR refused to register some refugees who had irregularities in their paperwork. In the event that irregularities in paperwork were due to human or computer errors rather than corruption, however, refugees found it difficult to overcome this hurdle and to receive assistance.

Those classified as vulnerable, in particular, had difficulties in registering during the census. In many camps, no special accommodations were made to make registration easier for vulnerable refugees, and refugees told Human Rights Watch that those who are most vulnerable found it extremely difficult to fight their way through the crowds waiting for days in the hot sun in order to register. After the census was completed, international aid workers observed that the number of people registered as vulnerable in almost every camp was significantly lower than it had been before the census and that many vulnerable refugees may have actually lost their ration cards as a result of the census.29 As discussed below, UNHCR decided not to use the census as a means of identifying additional vulnerable refugees for a number of reasons, but assured Human Rights Watch that they had already identified all refugees classified as vulnerable in the camps. Nevertheless, although NGOs informed UNHCR that many vulnerable refugees were not registered and have not been able to receive food, UNHCR field and headquarters staff have been slow to recognize and address the problem.

There have also been significant gaps in distribution?even during the November to June dry season when roads are passable. Refugees in Fangamadou and Mangay camps claimed that they had not received a distribution during the three months prior to Human Rights Watch's February 1999 visit, and that the last distribution they had received, in November 1998, was intended to feed them only for one period of forty-five days.30 International aid workers told Human Rights Watch that distributions had failed to arrive at many other camps as well. UNHCR and WFP staff at headquarters were unaware of these gaps in distribution.31 In November 1998, UNHCR subcontracted with the U.S.-based CARE to conduct some of the distributions, in an effort to improve efficiency. CARE began making food distributions to a few camps in March 1999, after the census, but logistical constraints precluded making distributions to all camps in the Gueckedou area immediately.

In addition, social workers and other refugee community leaders told Human Rights Watch that what little assistance there is does not always reach vulnerable refugees in the camps, including separated children and single women with children. This can be due to a variety of reasons. As is noted below, some families providing care to children separated from their parents have been known to usurp assistance designated for separated children to feed themselves and their own families. In addition, ration cards for each household are typically issued to male refugees, which gives them the opportunity to deny vital assistance to women and children, whose needs are ostensibly covered by the rations allocated.

Another problem is that WFP has provided the refugees with bulgur wheat which, as WFP staff acknowledged to Human Rights Watch, Sierra Leonean refugees are not used to eating, do not know how to cook properly, and have trouble digesting. Despite the fact that one kilogram of rice is more than four times as expensive than one kilogram of bulgur wheat, many refugees sell their bulgur in the market to purchase rice, because they prefer to eat their traditional staple food.
Due to the population density in the Gueckedou area, it would be virtually impossible for most refugees living in camps in the Gueckedou peninsula to support themselves independently. A nutrition expert for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) has estimated that only 28 percent of the refugees have access to land suitable for cultivation.32 In addition, WFP has noted that its food for work program has not been very successful among Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and that the refugees do not have access to a sufficiently diversified economic system.33

Protection Implications of Inadequate Assistance

Many refugees-especially those living in camps located close to the border-travel into Sierra Leone to harvest crops including coffee, cocoa, kola nuts, cassava, bush yams, bananas, and oranges, for personal consumption and/or sale in Guinean markets. Refugees sometimes return to Guinea within the same day, and at other times remain in Sierra Leone for two or more days at a time. While there, they have been exposed to the human rights abuses that they fled.

Refugees told Human Rights Watch that, given the danger, they would not have crossed the border if there was no economic necessity to do so. Reflecting the fears of many refugees, one teacher in Kundou-Lengo-Bengo Camp said, "Not across the border, we don't encourage that! We escaped death there!" 34 However, the refugees claimed that they feel compelled to go because they do not receive enough assistance, especially food. A refugee school teacher in Fangamadou explained, "When [school canteen] food is on, more kids go to school. When it's not, they go across the river." 35

Brama K. is a fourteen-year-old boy from Koidu who now lives with a family in Kundou-Lengo-Bengo camp. When he needs food or clothes, he crosses into Sierra Leone to pick green bananas or oranges to sell in the Kundou-Lengo-Bengo market. He told Human Rights Watch:

I'm afraid when I go because of the imagination of what is happening in Sierra Leone. . . . I ran away from my home in Koidu when the RUF rebels attacked. My mother was pregnant-she couldn't run. The rebels caught my mother and ordered her to carry a heavy load. She said she couldn't carry it. They said, "If you don't take it, we will kill you." I ran off. They shot her and she died.36
Children, especially adolescents, are often required or feel compelled to join in this cross border trade in order to support themselves and their families. A social worker in Fangamadou explained, "When food is not available, the refugees will do anything to survive. . . . It's an every day process-this is the season for coffee and cocoa. They bring their children, they can help carry the loads-like that you can carry two or three loads." 37

Officially, Guinea's external borders have been closed since December 1998, and the Guinean military ostensibly enforces the closure.38 A military officer in Fangamadou told Human Rights Watch that anyone who goes across is "playing with poison. If you try to come back, you will be swimming with the fish. You will be fish food." 39 Other Guinean military officers candidly told Human Rights Watch that the border was open despite the official policy and the risks refugees faced in Sierra Leone:

The border is essentially open to refugee traffic-children know the border, which is porous, well. . . . Commercial traffic goes back and forth without problems. Only when they are in Sierra Leone, the rebels have been known to attack them and mutilations have occurred.40
Many refugees reported that they have no trouble crossing the border-so long as they bribe the Guinean border guards. As one refugee girl in Fangamadou said, "If no pay, no go. If no money, they take your goods."41 A refugee boy in Kundou-Lengo-Bengo camp explained:
I meet the Guinean soldiers at the border. [On the way into Sierra Leone] I usually say I am in search of food and they let me pass. Then, when I am coming back to Guinea, they ask me for something. Pretend this is my bananas on my head. When they stop me, I put it down. We divide it into two shares-half for me and half for them. And then I pass.42
The risks for the refugees who cross the border have been real. According to UNHCR, at least five refugees were mutilated when they crossed the border in late 1998.43 Ayah, a seventeen-year-old adolescent head-of-household, was kidnapped by the rebels while he was picking coffee in Sierra Leone and held captive for ten days before managing to escape back to Guinea. Ayah described his experience with the rebels to Human Rights Watch:
They frightened us, they said "if you try to hide, we will beat you till your life got finished." I was not happy. I was forced to pound rice for them, to cook. I got these blisters on my hands. The boss said any time we heard gunfire, we should go get guns and go towards the fighting. But we were never trained how to use the guns. . . . I heard gunshots every day. We captives went to hide because we were afraid. The rebels tried to encourage us to use guns and teach us, but we refused. . . .

One night the rebels from Kailahun and the rebels from Koidu got drunk and got in a fight. That's when I decided to escape. When the rebels were quarrelling, the man that captured me ordered me to take the guns from the others (from the Koidu rebels). I said, "we have not guns, we are not trained, If you make us try to take their guns, we are afraid they will kill us." So the boss gave me ten lashes for disobeying him.44

Several children told Human Rights Watch that they encountered RUF rebels when they crossed into Sierra Leone but managed to avoid capture. Fatimata S., a seventeen-year-old head of household, told Human Rights Watch that her elder brother drowned in the Meli river when he saw the rebels and attempted to flee back to Guinea.45 Ami R., also seventeen years old, reported:
I have been to Sierra Leone in search of food. Here I don't have anything. I have just come last week from Sierra Leone. When I went to Sierra Leone the rebels ran after us so I decided to come back to Guinea. . . . The rebels shouted, "Stop! Stop!" We just ran into the bush, hid there until evening, then decided to walk back to Guinea.46
One must not forget that Sierra Leone is anything but safe. Everyone who goes back is doing so at his own risk. Children who go back is a tricky question. We have a responsibility to protect refugees, including children. If they can't depend on the family structure, then we have the responsibility to protect them. Absolutely. This is one reason to move the camps. . . . If a trend can no longer be considered an exception, then UNHCR has the responsibility to protect the children from doing it.47
However, the move will not be a panacea for this problem. Many refugees will likely be reluctant to move for this very reason-without being guaranteed adequate assistance at a new location, many would prefer to remain closer to Sierra Leone where they have access to farm land. Even refugees who move are likely to continue to make the longer journey across the border if they do not have adequate assistance or sufficient land to cultivate near their camps?even if their safety, security, and human rights cannot be guaranteed in Sierra Leone.

25 Human Rights Watch interview, Koulomba Camp, February 24, 1999.

Refugees who arrived earlier, referred to as "old caseload," are theoretically supposed to receive 1700 kcal per day. However, UNHCR reported that "old refugees" receive "no food supply" and that a nutritional survey conducted in June and July 1999 revealed that 3.6% of these old refugees suffer from global malnutrition and 0.7% suffer from severe malnutrition. In the same study, UNHCR found that 45% of malnourished children belong to "families which have no food supply." It should be noted, however, that these malnutrition rates fall below the emergency level of 5% malnutrition. Correspondence with Human Rights Watch, Conakry, July 10, 1999.

World Food Programme, Targeted Food Assistance for Relief and Recovery of Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, and Returning Refugees in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana, WFP/EB.2/99/5-B/1 (April 20, 1999). The food aid strategy for Sierra Leonean refugees was originally articulated as part of Project Liberia Regional 4604.06 in 1997. See World Food Programme, Targeted Food Assistance for Relief and Recovery of Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, and Returning Refugees in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ghana, WFP/EB.3/97/8-b/Add.1 (September 10, 1997).

28 In some cases, for example, ration cards were reportedly for sale in Guinean markets. However, irregularities in paperwork were not always attributable to corruption. In some cases, for example, they were due to computer errors.

Human Rights Watch interview, New York, June 18, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interviews, Fangamadou and Mangay camps, February 19, 1999, February 20, 1999, February 24, 1999. WFP confirmed that the distributions were intended to last forty-five days. Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Rome, June 12, 1999. When asked for the reasons for these delays in distribution, the UNHCR office in Guinea cited only brief interruptions for the December Guinean presidential elections and the February refugee census. Correspondence with Human Rights Watch, Conakry, July 10, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR officer, Geneva, July 2, 1999; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with WFP officer, Rome, June 12, 1999.

32 Austen Davis, "Revue du Programme D'Aide Alimentaire aux Refugies Liberiens et Sierra-Leonais en Guinee: Rapport d'une mission d'expert realisee sous la direction de Medecins sans Frontieres," March 1996, p. 4. Although this study was based on data collected during a 1995 mission, MSF believes that the findings still hold with respect to access to land, and that the large influx of Sierra Leonean refugees in 1998 has exacerbated the problem. Human Rights Watch interview, Brussels, March 10, 1999. UNHCR staff in Geneva do not have any information on the refugees' access to land and UNHCR staff in Guinea did not provide Human Rights Watch with adequate information on this question. Human Rights Watch interview, Geneva, July 2, 1999; Correspondence with Human Rights Watch, Conakry, July 10, 1999.

World Food Programme, Targeted Food Assistance, April 20, 1999. The food aid strategy for Sierra Leonean refugees was originally articulated as part of Project Liberia Regional 4604.06 in 1997. See World Food Programme, Targeted Food Assistance, September 10, 1997.

Human Rights Watch interview, Kundou-Lengo-Bengo camp, February 23, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 20, 1999. GTZ operates a canteen program in refugee schools that provides lunch for students.

36 Human Rights Watch interview, Kundou-Lengo-Bengo camp, February 23, 1999.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 18, 1999.

The government of Guinea closed the border to prevent population movements prior to its December 1998 national elections there and has not officially reopened it.

Human Rights Watch interview, February 20, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Gueckedou, February 22, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 24, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Kundou-Lengo-Bengo camp, February 23, 1999.

UNHCR Briefing Notes November 20, 1998; Human Rights Watch interview, Gueckedou, February 22, 1999.

44 Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou, February 19, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou camp, February 24, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview, Mangay camp, February 19, 1999.

Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR officer, Conakry, February 26, 1999.

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