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

Press Releases, 25 December 2010

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.

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UNHCR country pages

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

UNHCR has expressed its mounting concern about civilians trapped in the Abobo district of Cote d'Ivoire's commercial centre, Abidjan, following days of fierce fighting between forces loyal to rival presidential candidates. The situation there remains grim. Many of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Abobo have fled, but armed groups are reportedly preventing others from leaving. UNHCR is particularly concerned about vulnerable people, such as the sick and the elderly, who may not be able to leave.

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.