The Journey of Refugees and Migrants from Guinea

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CHICAGO, Illinois — Like many other struggling countries, the West African nation of Guinea is seeing large-scale migration away from the country. A combination of factors leads people to leave Guinea, many of which have worsened. Chief among these factors is the widespread poverty that impacts the entire country, leaving the populace with few options. Refugees and migrants from Guinea face a lot of challenges in their search for a better life, but organizations aim to make this journey less arduous.

Conditions in Guinea

Poverty in Guinea has been a constant struggle, but people were not leaving the country at a high rate until recently. Some important statistics from World Food Programme help to explain the conditions on the ground in Guinea. Out of the 13.4 million people in Guinea, 55% live in poverty. Nearly 22% of households are food-insecure and childhood malnutrition remains a significant problem.

Outside of the cities, people have less access to opportunity and food insecurity is more prevalent. Subsistence farming is the main form of income and access to food in rural areas. However, farmers do not have adequate access to farming materials or financial services to advance and progress. Roughly 71% of those suffering from severe food insecurity are subsistence farmers. Women play a significant part in the agricultural sector but gender inequality leads to greater suffering for them. Women have less access to land, formal employment, education and income and they make up 60% of people in Guinea suffering from chronic hunger.

Refugees and migrants from Guinea usually leave the country to escape these very conditions. The Borgen Project interviewed M., a young woman who grew up in Guinea and left in 2015, eventually settling in the United States. M. has asked that identifying information not be revealed for reasons of privacy and safety. M. agrees that poverty pushes the people of Guinea to leave the country. M. asserts that the main problems Guinea faces are lack of access to electricity and water and a lack of personal security or accountability through the justice system. Of the situation in the country, she predicts that the situation will continue downward unless significant intervention occurs.

M. spoke further about why people are leaving Guinea, indicating that a sense of hopelessness has swept over the youth of the country. “They see they have no future there, and there is nothing they can do, so they prefer to move and find a better life.” The economy has faced numerous crises since the beginning of the 21st century and youth unemployment is rampant.

Political Troubles and Violence

Also worth mentioning is the volatile political situation and ethnic conflicts, which contribute to there being even more refugees and migrants from Guinea. Many of those seeking asylum are often fleeing the country for the simple reasons of belonging to an opposition party or advocating for greater freedom and equality. Peaceful protests against the government are rarely allowed and harshly cracked down on.

Political violence is often based on ethnic tension and conflict. The linking of the two causes election cycles to be times of high tension and outbreaks of violence. After Guinea’s 2020 presidential election, demonstrations protesting the legitimacy of the elections were met with extreme force by the country’s security forces, leading to many deaths. This suppression of opposition and post-election violence is not an unusual occurrence in Guinea and has been a scourge on the country for decades.

The Journey of Refugees and Migrants from Guinea

Refugees and migrants from Guinea face a difficult road to a better life. Though most are fleeing poverty and a lack of opportunity, financial resources are important to have in order to undertake the journey. M. says that those with enough money can fly out of the country, but many do not have this opportunity. Still, a lack of financial resources does not prevent people from undertaking risks for a better life. “Some people walk country by country until they get where they want to be,” M. recalls.

Refugees and migrants from Guinea cross through, settle in and apply for asylum in many different nations. M. said that most want to go to Europe and others opt for the U.S. or Canada. M. also names Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal, Morocco and Algeria as other countries that those leaving Guinea find themselves in over the course of their journey, often in transit to other destinations. M. herself spent more than a year in Morocco on her journey to the United States.

Asylum applications show a good picture of the worsening situation in Guinea and provide a look at where people who leave Guinea are trying to settle. The yearly number of asylum applications from Guineans was stable at around 5,000 or fewer from 2000 to 2009, before shooting upward. Asylum applications rose to more than 10,000 in 2013, before reaching a high of around 23,000 in 2017. In 2019, this number dropped to around 20,000.

In 2019, the leading country for asylum applications by refugees from Guinea was France, with 6,662 applications. This was followed by Germany, Spain, Morocco and Belgium, before the number of applications to other countries sharply drops off. Countries receiving these applications typically rejected most of them, especially countries overwhelmed with requests for asylum. France only accepted 14% of applications, Germany accepted 18%, and Spain, just 4%. Canada and the United States had much fewer applications but accepted a higher proportion of them at 68% and 37% acceptance rates respectively.

The UNHCR Helps Refugees and Migrants

Despite the difficulty of the journey for safety and opportunity, there are many organizations that help refugees and migrants from Guinea and elsewhere. Chief among these is the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR helps migrants and refugees by providing necessities for them to survive and find safety. These include healthcare, clean water, sanitation, shelter and more. The  UNHCR works across the entire world and has personnel in 135 countries. In 2020, the UNHCR provided COVID-19 assistance to more than 39 million displaced people worldwide. M. speaks highly of the UNHCR, who she received help from in Morocco. She says the UNHCR was especially helpful for underage refugees and migrants as well as young mothers and people with health issues.

Aid from organizations is vital in providing support for refugees and migrants on their journeys toward safety and a better life. With assistance from organizations like the UNHCR, refugees and migrants from Guinea are given hope of a brighter tomorrow.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

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