Media Advisory: Liberia - Humanitarian needs growing as influx of Ivorian refugees continues

GENEVA, Saturday December 25, 2010

UNHCR has registered a total of 14,000 Ivorian refugees in eastern Liberia who fled in the wake of post-electoral instability in their country for nearly a month now. With their numbers growing, the humanitarian needs are increasing for the mostly women and children refugees as well as for the villagers hosting them.

Refugees are coming from western Côte d'Ivoire and UNHCR staff on the ground say the refugees are having to walk several hours or even days before crossing by barge the many small rivers marking the natural border between their country and Liberia. Some are arriving with severely swollen feet, like a 75 year old man whom we transferred from Butuo, one of the main entry points into Liberia. Some families said they had walked three to four days through the bush with little food.

The growing number of new arrivals is impacting communities hosting the refugees. Food supplies are running short despite efforts by the government and humanitarian agencies to bring in more assistance. Our staff report that host community houses are full and congested. In the area of Butuo for example there are homes where 7 to 20 family members share a single room, while others sleep in corridors or on verandas.

Moreover, we are seeing more malnourished children and people suffering from malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea. We are referring the most severe cases to Saclepea, a five-hour drive on very rough roads. In some locations without ambulances we are transferring the patients onboard UNHCR vehicles.

A few deaths have been reported among the new arrivals, including that of a child who drowned during the crossing of the Cestos river into Butuo.

Meanwhile in Côte d'Ivoire, the UN refugee agency is concerned about reports that some members of the Forces Nouvelles (FN) at Gbeinta, in the Danane area, are preventing people from freely crossing into Liberia via the Loguato border crossing point. This is causing refugees from the Danane villages to deviate their route by up to 80 kilometers southward to enter Liberia. UNHCR is calling for the protection of civilians and respect for the right to seek asylum without hindrance.

UNHCR has already provisionally pre-positioned supplies to assist up to 30,000 refugees in the region.