Aid agencies warn of refugee problem in Ivory Coast and Liberia


More than 100 000 people have fled political unrest in Cote d’Ivoir and are living in dire conditions in neighbouring Liberia and unless more is done, they are at risk of being cut off from aid as the rainy season approaches, charity Oxfam International warns.

“People have fled violence and are now living with families in Liberia in remote jungle areas along the border,” Oxfam spokesperson Caroline Gluck said. “When the rains come, we will not be able to reach them with aid because the whole area will become inaccessible. The clock is ticking to get people to safe and reachable areas.”

Oxfam has airlifted relief supplies for up to 70 000 people into Liberia and is installing clean water in camps along the border. It will help families hosting refugees to restock diminished food supplies, the charity says, but warns that the rainy season, which is just starting, will make roads to remote villages along the border with Cote d’Ivoir impassable. As a result, Oxfam warns there will be food shortages and a sanitation crisis.
“People are walking four or five days before crossing a river to reach safety,” said Gluck. “Fathers are carrying their young children on their backs through deep forest and surviving on raw vegetables. Some are sleeping 35 people to a room, forced to spend nights sitting up when it rains. There is a severe lack of food, shelter and medical care.
“Most people have fled their homes after armed men stormed their village. Communities in Liberia are generously supporting thousands of people but they don’t have the supplies to provide help any longer. Much more needs to be done to help people who have fled violence and are now stranded with very little.”

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has registered 73 000 refugees in Liberia between 24 February and March, in addition to a million displaced people in Cote d’Ivoir’s largest city Abidjan. Meanwhile on 28 March, Unicef announced that more than 100 000 refugees had crossed into Liberia.

Thousands of refugees are fleeing the Ivory Coast every year and the UNHCR estimated that 6 000 refugees crossed the border on 22 March. Melissa Fleming, UNHCR spokesperson, said people, “can no longer cope financially due to closures of banks and businesses, and resulting unemployment. Costs of food have risen, and there is little available in the markets.” As a result, people are fleeing the country. It is also difficult for aid agencies to work within Cote d’Ivoir.

The UNHCR has said that relief workers can expect up to a quarter of a million people to arrive by the end of June. The United Nations has asked for US$146.5 million to deal with the refugee crisis but only a quarter of that has been made available.

The British government has announced an emergency aid package for the refugees as governments worry the influx of people could destabilise neighbouring countries. The UK’s Department for International Development said last week that it would give 16 million pounds to aid agencies working in Cote d’Ivoir and Liberia. This would provide food, shelter and basic services to 20 000 refugees in Liberia and 25 000 people displaced in Cote d’Ivoir.

Meanwhile, fighting between UN-backed presidential winner Alassane Ouattara’s supporters and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo continues. The UN has accused both sides of killing hundreds of people. Charities like the Red Cross and Caritas have said that between 800 and 1 000 people were killed in one neighbourhood as a result of the political conflict.