Strained resources for refugees from Côte d’Ivoire and their hosts in Liberia
Nimba County, Liberia, 14 Jan. 2011 – Sanata, 9, was home alone when chaos erupted in her village on the western border of Côte d’Ivoire. Just days after the Ivoirian presidential elections in late November, tension between the country’s political parties was heating up and violence was feared as both candidates claimed victory.
Sanata’s parents were working in the fields, and her brothers and sisters were out, when the neighbours decided to take her along as they fled across the Nior River into Liberia – a long day’s walk under a baking sun.
Now Sanata is one of nearly 13,000 children from Côte d’Ivoire who have been registered in Liberia by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees since the crisis began. Three-quarters of the Ivoirian refugee population in the country is composed of children and women.
A warm welcome
Although Ms. Makese is a stranger here, she and about 650 other refugees who arrived in Duoplay in recent months have received a warm welcome.
“We are caring for them. We can’t just let them go homeless,” says James Yormie, the village secretary. “But there are many problems that now we all have to face. With so many extra people, food is a serious problem, not to mention drinking water and toilets.”
No stranger to conflict
Liberia is no stranger to conflict and the hardships it can cause. The country came out of a 14-year civil war itself in 2003, followed by successful democratic elections in 2005. Development, however, is slow.
“You know, we just came from war, and the agricultural situation here is somewhat lacking,” explains Sandi, a Nimba County supervisor with the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission. “There is a will to share with the refugees, and people are sharing a lot, but the stocks are running out. Basically, they are running out of food.”
‘Nothing to eat’
“They come for exams, for medication,” says Roseline Farnglo, a certified midwife at the clinic. “We treat them for free because we have free health care in Liberia. But no matter what their medical problem, they are all saying the same thing – they’re hungry.”
When refugee Isabelle Mami went to the Gblarlay clinic, she thought she was just seven months pregnant. She found out she was already into her ninth month. This baby will be her sixth child, and she and her family are hungry. “There is nothing to eat,” she says.
Many refugee children suffer from malnutrition and are referred to feeding centres for treatment – but the centres are often far from the border towns.
Lack of safe water
UNICEF has signed an agreement with national and international non-governmental organizations to expedite the emergency response on water and sanitation. In a number of villages, it has funded the building of latrines through a local partner, Equip Liberia.
In addition, UNICEF has distributed jerry cans and safe drinking water to sites in the affected area.
Schools hit hard
In Duoplay, classes have been suspended for six weeks because the small village school is serving as a temporary shelter for over 50 women and children.
Even where local schools are operational, refugee children are missing out. Not only do they follow a different curriculum back home in Côte d’Ivoire; they also speak a different language at school and do not understand the English spoken in Liberian schools.
UNICEF’s central supply hub in Copenhagen has provided education materials to get schools running for the refugee children as soon as possible. UNCEF is also working with Ivoirian refugees who are teachers to coordinate classes and recreational activities.
‘They aren’t forgotten’
“It took us over three hours to get here from the warehouse, and we didn’t know if we would make if over the bridges or even some parts of the road,” says Robert Tolbert, a Protection Officer with the UN refugee agency. “But we have to come. We have to get here and let the people know they aren’t forgotten.”
By Eva Gilliam