Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move - N° 93, December 2003, pp. 313-317
Human Promotion, a Christian Response
Mr. Robert TÉDOUNO
Assistance Programme Director,
«Organisation Catholique pour la Promotion Humaine»
(Republic of Guinea)
Located in West Africa, the Republic of Guinea has a population of around 7.5 million and an area of 245,857 km2, with an average density of around 30.5 inhabitants/km2. It is bordered to the north by Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Mali, to the south by Liberia and Sierra Leone, to the east by Ivory Coast and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean.The main ethnic groups are the Fulbes (40%), the Maninkas (30%) and the Sosso (20%), with other groups making up around 10% of the total population.The people are mainly Muslim (85%), while other religions represent only a small proportion of the population:8% Christians and 7% animists.
Guinea has significant natural resources in the areas of agriculture, fishing and mines (bauxite, diamonds and gold).Nevertheless, Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world.According to the UNDP Report, it ranks 159th out of 173 in the world human development index.Other important statistics include:an adult literacy rate of 35.9%; per capital GNP of 1,300 dollars; a life expectancy at birth of 45.91 years; and an infant mortality rate of 129 deaths per 1,000 births.Around 40% of the population live below the poverty threshold, which in 1994/95 was evaluated at around US$ 300 dollars per capita per annum.In addition, is the silent spread of AIDS in the country:4% of adults had HIV/AIDS in the population ranging from 15 to 49 years of age in 1999.
Encouraging progress has undoubtedly been made since 1985, especially regarding social sectors and budgetary control, but in recent years overall economic performance has been unstable and disturbed by the climate of insecurity and persistent tension in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which has contributing to discouraging investors.The long-term presence of refugees and displaced persons in Guinea has also led to considerable degradation of natural resources such as vegetation and soil.
An overview of the humanitarian situation in Guinea
Due to its geographical location, for over ten years Guinea has been facing a difficult and precarious humanitarian situation, caused by troubles and upheavals in the neighbouring countries ofLiberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.
All these conflicts have led refugees to flee to Guinea. At the height of the crisis they numbered around 700,000, equal to around 10% of the Guinean population.
It should also be pointed out that following rebel attacks that Guinea suffered on its borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone in September 2002, the refugee situation greatly deteriorated, given that the camps were located along the border, and because the refugees were accused of being accomplices, and sometimes rebels, by the host population.Moreover, this gave rise to the displacement of a large number of Guineans, estimated at over 670,000, and caused considerable damage.The reason for these aggressions are still unknown, and are most likely an imbroglio.The complexity of the situation must be borne in mind and analysed in terms of its sub-regional aspect.
Today, thanks to the lull in the conflict in Sierra Leone and the repatriation programme supported by HCR, the number of refugees from Sierra Leone has decreased considerably.The current refugee camp population is estimated at over 100,000, the majority of whom are Liberians. Ivorian refugees in the camps are a minority, because most of them chose to stay in host communities not far from the border with Ivory Coast.
The initiatives of the Organisation Catholique pour la Promotion Humaine (OCPH)
Unlike other humanitarian aid organisations, which seem to delight in the long-term presence of refugees and take advantage of it for their survival, OCPH’s commitment to refugees and displaced persons in Guinea is designed and carried out as a disinterested service. It is rather giving oneself and providing a concrete Christian response to humanitarian crisis situations, in which people are really suffering and are prey to a kind of panicking despair because they have been abandoned by those who received a mandate to relieve their suffering.
Without wishing to refuse the partnership and collaboration of those who share its objectives, in its operations OCPH has always given priority to situations where needs are most blatant, and where other organisations are less interested, either for safety reasons or because they do not stand to make any financial gain. Therefore we see our mission as a vocation, a living witness of the love of Christ manifested to men and women in distress and in need of hope.
Concrete actions in favour of refugees: OCPH’s assistance to refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia dates back to 1996. This assistance primarily takes place in the field of agriculture via distribution of agricultural inputs and technical support to refugees in improving slum areas.The objective was to contribute to restoring the dignity of refugees by enabling them to earn their living by working.However, as mentioned above, the situation of refugees deteriorated considerably following rebel attacks in September 2000, and OCPH was faced with an emergency humanitarian crisis. Moreover, a speech by the president of the republic to the Guinean people on 9 September 2000 brought things to a head when he asked them to protect their country by all possible means. This is when people lumped together refugees and rebels, leading to threats and witch hunts being triggered off in Conakry.In this situation the refugees said: “If we must die, we prefer to do so in our own country”.
How can one not be moved by the cries of distraught, helpless refugees?Some of the refugees who were able to do so gathered in their embassies’ compounds and desperately pleaded to return home even though the situation in their countries of origin did not guarantee their safety.
OCPH could not remain impassive in the face of this horrible and inhuman situation.It was called upon by its own mission, which is none other than to communicate the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to all men and women, especially to those who are suffering.Therefore, as a member of Caritas Internationalis, OCPH requested and benefited from the solidarity of the whole network which mobilised by giving technical and financial support.A series of emergency operations were scheduled and implemented including the voluntary repatriation of over 500 of the most vulnerable people.However, not being specialised in repatriation by boat which is highly risky (insufficient life jackets, etc.), we opted for another course of action by offering logistical support to the Sierra Leone embassy. We provided trucks to transport the refugees from the camps where they were stranded to Conakry so that they could take the ferry made available by the Sierra Leone government.
However, after many setbacks, at the height of the rainy season and in extremely difficult conditions, a large number of refugees ended up in and around the embassy compound waiting for the ferry which had been delayed. This created the need to set up a transit camp in Conakry.This was done by OCPH and the international NGO, Doctors Without Borders (MSF).OCPH provided the site and managed the camp ( distribution of hot meals, monitoring and surveillance, etc.) and MSF took charge of setting up the medical aspect.It should be borne in mind that all these operations took place with the agreement of the Guinean and Sierra Leonian authorities represented by their embassies, but paradoxically without the approval of HCR whose policy was ambiguous at the time.The camp accommodated over 18,000 refugees before they travelled to Freetown by ferry, and also via the International Organisation for Migration.It should also be noted that an operation called “Glass of Water” was launched in the south of the country on behalf of more than 100,000 of the most vulnerable refugees who had been left to their own devices by international humanitarian organisations which, for security reasons, had declared the area inaccessible.Our goal was to restore hope and trust to these people, who had been forgotten for months, by giving them food.
Currently, with the return to stability, the refugees have been relocated to camps that are well away from border areas.Thanks to the quality of its assistance to refugees, the legitimate value of which HCR hasn’t failed to recognise, OCPH currently enjoys the esteem and respect of the Guinean authorities, HCR and also the refugees. We continue our operations in Liberian and Ivorian refugee camps, via distribution of food and non-food items.We also act in favour of those who, although refugees, are not in camps, and therefore do not benefit from HCR assistance, but are constantly knocking at OCPH’s door.
Concrete actions in favour of displaced persons:Unlike refugees who are generally the object of “business and funding manna” for a number of humanitarian organisations that orbit around HCR, the plight of displaced persons in Guinea arouses less sentiment and attention from so-called humanitarian organisations.Nevertheless, they are just as vulnerable as refugees.They too are refugees in their own country. Therefore, in addition to our operations in favour of refugees, our actions also concern those displaced by war after the rebel attacks in 2000. The assistance given to these displaced persons is delivered in two phases:
As a Church organisation, OCPH’s mission is to provide a Christian response to human aspirations and integral human development by contributing in a specific way to building a society in which the Kingdom of God comes every day:a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and truth.Our actions are inspired by Jesus Christ who offered himself as a ransom for humanity.Therefore our actions solely aim to contribute to the restoration of human dignity, because people were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Indeed, the source of our commitment lies in the sacrament of the Eucharist which we have the privilege and the grace to receive each time we take part in the Holy Mass.Partaking in the body of Christ requires that we also allow ourselves to be “eaten” by others, for the glory of God.
Currently, with a fresh upsurge of conflict in Liberia and the fragile peace in Ivory Coast, many needs, which are difficult to fulfil due to lack of resources, have still to be met.Undoubtedly, through the Church’s traditional network (parishes, Christian grassroots communities) acts of solidarity and charity are still carried out by communities which are also fragile themselves.Problems continue to be greater for Guineans evacuated from Ivory Coast after living there for many decades and who have almost no ties in Guinea.Due to their nationality they are considered to be at home, and as such do not benefit from the assistance of international organisations.OCPH is almost the only organisation that looks after them despite the meagreness of its resources.Yet it is to those in distress, those who are forgotten and without help, to whom the love of Christ should be concretely expressed, to the point of giving oneself.We are also involved in peace-building through participation in national and sub-regional meetings.Thank you very much.