Thousands Driven from Homes in Guinea-Bissau Need Aid

Vatican City, 29 March 2006 ' Caritas Guinea-Bissau is currently providing for some 5000 people driven from their homes by fighting between government forces and Senegalese rebel groups along the country's northern border, but the organisation is calling on others for help as its limited supplies are running scarce.


Fighting erupted about a week and a half ago, when members of a Senegalese separatist group called the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance fled into Guinea-Bissau after coming under attack from a rival group. Guinea-Bissau's armed forces launched artillery attacks against the group's position near the city of Sao Domingo, driving the local population from their homes.

The rebel groups and the military have also laid mines around the conflict zone, which the United Nations says has already led to civilian and military casualties.

"The authorities say the operation is going to take longer than expected, while local radio reports say there is no end in sight to this conflict," said Father Alberto Zamberletti, president of Caritas Guinea-Bissau.

People fleeing Sao Domingo have fled to the east to Ingoré, where over 1700 displaced people were being sheltered with host families, and to the west to Cacheu, which counted over 1600 displaced people as of Saturday. Hundreds of others have sought refuge in the towns of Bula and Bissora.

"The situation is very serious since these people were already living at a subsistence level," explained Zamberletti. "Some households are having to provide for double and even triple the number of people they normally have to feed, so it's stretching resources and making life difficult also for the host families."

Towns further to the west of Cacheu, such as Suzana and Varela, are particularly at risk as they are isolated by the fighting to the east, the ocean to the west, wedged between a river to the south and the Senegalese border to the north. Church missions nearby are planning on transporting aid to these areas via the river.

The limited resources of Caritas Guinea-Bissau won't last very long. The organisation is asking for basic emergency and relief items, such as cooking utensils, clothing, soap, water, food and medicine. The rice harvest was already destroyed by saltwater flooding from the sea, and the cashews that should be harvested now will probably go to waste. Therefore, food aid will have to carry over to the next harvest.

Caritas Guinea-Bissau will also need help in helping displaced people return to their homes once the fighting has stopped. They will need to buy fuel for transport, as well as seeds for the next planting season.

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations present in over 200 countries and territories.

For more information, contact: Nancy McNally, media officer Tel: +39 06 69879752

Von: 30 Mar 2006 09:04:00 GMT Source: Caritas International

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