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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

New agencies and changes in PARLS

The three examples described above show that the results of the 'new relief approach' were quite different from one place to another. In Guu, the new relief approach was reasonably effective, though undoubtedly more expensive than the previous one. In Noonah in Yomou, it was a complete failure (Box 1). In Forriah, resettling refugees in camps was unnecessary and costly.

But most of the new refugees needed more assistance and the relief system was ready to deliver it. Food aid and medical care quickly became available. All children were vaccinated against measles, anthropometric surveys were conducted and, when indicated, feeding centres were started. Clean water was also made available in all new settlement sites. During 1995, however, the relief system failed overall to supply reasonable quantities of food.18 Consequently, food insecurity increased and malnutrition among the refugees rose considerably. As an answer to this problem, UNHCR reinforced programmes for vulnerable refugees. Malnourished children were relatively easy to identify, but this was more difficult for female-headed families and unaccompanied elders within a highly mobile population. In an attempt to decrease irregularities during food distribution, food basket monitoring was started. At every distribution, checks were made to determine what were the real quantities of food received by the refugees. It soon became clear that even at the end of the distribution channel problems existed. UNHCR and WFP decided to change the 50-beneficiaries-ration-card system to a distribution at household level. This increased the reliability of the distributions for the refugees. Also, support for income-generating activities, mainly rice production, was stepped up. In previous years, this had consisted of distribution of agricultural tools and seeds. Later, improving access to land, mainly through exploitation of new swamps became the target, with better results.

This more interventionist relief approach also brought new actors on the scene. Up to 1993 PARLS was carried by UNHCR, WFP and NGOs already working in the Forest Region in the context of development programmes. Only the Red Cross, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) had joined PARLS as new NGOs. During 1993-95, however, additional NGOs started operating, such as Action Contre la Faim, Jesuit Refugee Service and Eglise Protestante Evangque. Early 1996, GTZ took over PARLS from MSF in Guu, and from Oxfam in Forriah. GTZ later also replaced ADRA to transport food aid. In less than two years, GTZ became one of the main actors of PARLS.

Not only did the nature of the refugees evolve over time, so did the attitude of the hosts and the preparedness of the relief system. The role of the relief system increased. In terms of refugee livelihood, there was a shift from self-supporting to relying on assistance from outsiders. To a certain extent, this change in approach was an understandable response to the changing conditions of the refugees. But the change in policy was not necessarily appropriate, as illustrated earlier. Table 9 compares the response of the hosts and the relief system to the early and late arrivals.

Table 9: Response to the refugee waves, 1990-95

Early arrivals, 1990-91
Four major waves

Late arrivals, 1992-95
Subsequent minor waves

Attitude of the hosts and the relief system towards

Collective wishful thinking and generosity. Most people thought: 'This is a short-term problem, we have to help these refugees through this difficult period of a few months, after which they will return home'. Resources were pouring in from the donors to help the refugees.

Management approach. Many people thought: 'This problem is lasting longer than anyone could have expected', and 'Many refugees are misusing the aid system'. Donors started imposing conditions on better use of food aid. 'Old' refugees who had arrived in 1990-93 were assumed integrated and self-sufficient.

General approach of the relief system

Low-key approach: a limited relief system that followed the refugees. During the first wave, UNHCR was not yet present in Guinea. MOH and MSF took the lead with a low-key approach. UNHCR became fully operational only after 4 to 5 months.

The existing relief system led by UNHCR took the initiative, as the main actor. The relief system was already fully operational upon arrival of the refugees.

The registration system was lax during the first and second waves; and still quite liberal during the third and fourth waves. Distributions, once started, were poorly targeted. Large quantities of food were misappropriated. Food prices on the local market plummeted to an 'all-time low'.

Different actors had highlighted adverse effects of food aid. Consequently, UNHCR started control on registration and fraud. Food aid was decreased for old refugees. When new refugees arrived in the same areas, they seriously interfered with control and verification.

Not only the general attitude and approach to refugee assistance changed, also the technical content of the assistance evolved over time. Where the early arrivals had received a low-key slimmed assistance package, the late arrivals received a more comprehensive package (Table 10).

Table 10: Content of PARLS, 1990-95

Early arrivals, 1990-91
Four major waves

Late arrivals, 1992-95
Subsequent minor waves

Medical relief

At the onset basic curative care, measles vaccination, disease surveillance and nutritional monitoring were considered to be an appropriate package of relief activities.

Therapeutic feeding centres, a supplementary feeding programme and services by health animators were added to the package of relief activities.

Food aid

Refugees lived several weeks, even months without food aid, without serious consequences on their health.

Refugees received food aid rations from the first days or weeks on.

Water Supply

Improvements in village water supply (e.g. protection of existing shallow wells) were first attempted. New wells and boreholes with hand pumps were installed months later.

New wells and boreholes were dug very early in the camps.


Initially no assistance was given for the construction of shelter. Months later some plastic sheeting was distributed.

Assistance in the lay-out of camps and the construction of shelter was given from the onset.