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More than 15,000 Ivoirians flee political crisis, seeking refuge in Liberia

© UNICEF Liberia/2010/Diggs
Wonyen Basee, 12, crossed the border with his parents and younger brothers and sisters in fear of post-elections violence in Cote d’Ivoire.

Nimba County, Liberia, 27 Dec 2010 - “We walked from Gotuo (Southwestern  Cote d‘Ivoire)  for three days through the bush to come here. There were many people walking with us. We ran away because we were afraid that the rebels would come to beat us,” said 12 year old Wonyen Basee.

Wonyen is among the thousands of Ivoirians who fled to Liberia after the eruption of violence following the Presidential run- off in Cote d’Ivoire last month.   

Safe heaven
Seven years have passed since the end of the 14-year civil conflict in Liberia, and news of the outbreak of violence in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire is a cause of concern for many Liberians. Words such as “We are happy to provide safe haven to our Ivoirian brothers and sisters, but we do not want any fighting here again,” are commonly heard in gatherings in Monrovia.
UNHCR and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) have registered more than 15,000 Ivoirians in the last three weeks of December. The refugees are presently living with Liberian host families. Many of the host communities are already over burdened and discussions are underway with the government for the possibility of setting up refugee camps.

Majority of the communities along the northern border of Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire belong to the same tribe and speak a similar dialect.  Many families are even related through marriage.  “They are like our own people, we speak the same language and we are happy to host them. But they should work with us in the farms so that we produce enough food for everyone,” said Victor G. Warleh, the town chief of Kissiplay in Nimba County.

More than 60 per cent are children
Notwithstanding the hospitality of the local Liberian communities, living conditions in the communities are fast deteriorating. There is already a shortage of safe drinking water and food and shelter is a serious concern with as many as 10-15 people including men, women and children sleeping together in small rooms. There are a substantial number of malnourished children, as well as others suffering from malaria and diarrhoea. Many pregnant women and lactating mothers are also present among the refugees.

More than 60% of the refugees are children. Quite a few among them are unaccompanied, having crossed the border with their older siblings and relatives. “I was playing and I saw many people in line walking by, so I followed them,” said three-year old Dan Woulie, to a UNICEF needs assessment team. Dan is the youngest unaccompanied child registered so far and presently being looked after by a refugee family, till his family is traced from across the border.

A multi sectoral humanitarian response
UNHCR and the Government’s LRRRC and Ministry of Internal Affairs are coordinating a multi sectoral humanitarian response through a contingency plan that was developed many months back. Sectoral working groups comprising government, UN and NGOs are working together to ensure that services and supplies reach those in need at the earliest time possible.

The government, NGOs and UNHCR are distributing non food items like cooking pots, blankets, soap, mosquito nets and mats to refugee as well as host families. WFP is expediting food distribution in the affected areas and WHO with the Ministry of Health and partners are working to increase health care services to communities.  

UNICEF is leading the coordination and response efforts for nutrition, water and sanitation, child protection and education in partnership with relevant government ministries, Save the Children and other civil society partners.

“There are more than 22 settlements hosting refugees, and it is quite a challenge to provide all communities with safe drinking water and sanitation facilities and other services due to bad road conditions. However, the Government and NGO partners have been very pro active, and we’re trying our best to reach the communities as early as possible,” said Sam Treglown, Water and Sanitation specialist from UNICEF.

Hope for peace
In Douplay, on the Liberian side of the border, 100 year old Mrs. Gomon Notia is happy to host a young Ivoirian family. “We are trying our best to share what we have with our guests, but we do not have enough food to last for long,” said the centenarian. “I have seen a lot in my days. All I hope and pray now is for peace in our land.”

By Miraj Pradhan and Bill Diggs



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