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close this bookMedical Assistance to Self-settled Refugees (Tropical Institute Antwerp, 1998)
close this folder3. The refugee-crisis: between self-reliance and pragmatic assistance
close this folderLate arrivals: the subsequent minor waves, 1992-95
View the documentCross-border movements in both directions
View the documentEarly versus late arrivals
View the documentNew agencies and changes in PARLS

Early versus late arrivals

The refugees who arrived in 1990-91 were fundamentally different from those who came in 1992-95. The needs of the late arrivals were more Important while the efficiency of their own coping mechanisms decreased. Tab compares the main characteristics of the early and the late arrivals.

Box I: Noonah refugee camp & informed consent to non-assistance

Noonah is a small Guinean village. Most of the forest around is part of the Sacred Forest, where only people initiated through local rites may enter. UNHCR established Noonah camp to resettle the new refugees. Only 8,000 refugees accepted the move, as the camp offered hardly any access to farmland or labour opportunities. The remainder, some 19,000, refused to move to Noonah, in full knowledge of the fact that by doing so they would not be entitled to free food or free medical care. They became officially unregistered refugees. This is a case of 'informed consent to non-assistance' because the pre-conditions unilaterally imposed by UNHCR were not acceptable to the refugees. This refusal was partly due to the bad track record the relief system had in the eyes of many refugees. The refugees did not trust UNHCR and its implementing agencies when they promised that refugees would get full relief rations in Noonah camp. Previously, they had indeed not been capable to supply food as scheduled. Many refugees judged rightly that their chances to develop economic self-sufficiency in Noonah camp were slim, and preferred to opt out and rely on themselves rather than on the relief system.

UNHCR was so strict because it could not distinguish between 'real new refugees' and 'false new refugees' ('older' refugees trying to register twice or Guineans trying to get registered as refugees). The physical separation of the new refugees from the old ones was indeed a solution to this problem, as very few 'false new refugees' would ever accept to move to Noonah camp. However, it also excluded a large number of 'real new refugees' from registration.

The refugees who opted out were probably those who had better chances of coping and becoming self-sufficient. Many who settled in Noonah camp moved back to where they had first settled, or into the Guinean villages around Noonah; they would only return to the camp on the days of food distribution.

During 1995, the refugees who refused to move to Noonah camp were proved right. Although Noonah camp was prioritised for food distributions, these were insufficient and malnutrition became highly prevalent. In 1995, the situation deteriorated in many areas, but in Noonah camp the situation was worse than elsewhere, and took longer to redress.

Table 8: Characteristics of the refugees and their reception, 1990-95

Early arrivals, 1990-91
Four major waves

Late arrivals, 1992-95
Subsequent minor waves

Nature of the refugees

When hostilities reached their area of residence, people fled to Guinea as a first choice. They lived close to the border and had ethnic links, often family, in Guinea.

When hostilities reached their area of residence, people first struggled to remain within their country. Only when this became impossible, they fled to Guinea (internally displaced, then refugees). Sometimes they included refugees who had returned to their country but had to flee again (refugees, returnees, and then re-refugees).

General condition of the refugees

Refugees were generally in good condition. Refugees arrived in relatively homogeneous groups of people of the same ethnic group.

Many refugees arrived malnourished, and in poor health. Many families were split before arrival. Refugees arrived in heterogeneous groups of mixed ethnicity that did not originally live together.

Characteristics of the reception in the host area

The refugees arrived in areas inhabited by relatives and where no refugees had yet arrived. The reception of the refugees by the host population was in general very generous.

The host population was already supporting large numbers of refugees. Kinship relations between newly arrived refugees and their hosts were weak or non-existent. The hosts often considered areas of arrival 'saturated' with refugees.

The aid system was not yet in place in the area of arrival and no registration of refugees had taken place previously.

The relief system was already in place and earlier arrivals had been registered. 'Registration = food aid' - logic was already installed.

Most refugees did not expect relief, nor did their hosts.

As internally displaced, some refugees had already received food aid. On arrival in Guinea they expected the 'international community' to take care of them. The local population and the refugees already present counted on aid from the relief system for the new refugees.

Mode of settlement in the host area

Self-settlement among host population:
refugees mixed with existing population in the border areas. After some weeks or months, they constructed their own houses, often spatially integrated in existing villages, or in paired villages.

UNHCR tried to keep old and new refugees separate. It prepared camp sites at a distance from the border, and new refugees had to settle there to be registered. The populations of these camps were mixed and were supported by the relief system. After some time, these camps often became 'ghost camps'. Vulnerable refugees and dependants often remained in the camps. When food distributions took place, refugees returned to the camps.