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More Ivorian refugees move into Liberia's camps

News Stories, 21 July 2011

© UNHCR/S.Momodu
Ivorian refugees moving from the Liberian border area to Little Wlebo refugee camp in Maryland county, Liberia.

HARPER, Liberia, July 21 (UNHCR) For weeks, they stayed in the border areas hoping they could go home soon. But now thousands of Ivorian refugees are volunteering to move into Liberian camps while they decide on their future.

Since early July, more than 3,000 refugees from Côte d'Ivoire have been relocated from eastern Liberia's transit centres and host communities into camps further inland. Some of the refugees were moved from the Bishop Ferguson Transit Centre to the Little Wlebo refugee camp in Maryland county, while others have relocated from border communities in Grand Gedeh and Nimba counties to refugee camps that are being expanded to accommodate them.

Refugees relocating are mainly those uncertain about the future in Côte d'Ivoire or still traumatized by the violence at the height of the post-election crisis that started in November last year.

"I had a shop in Tabou. I had two wives and my family was happy," said Gogoua, 42, who moved into a camp recently. "During the crisis, one of my wives and one of my children were killed before my eyes because of my money. I was mercilessly beaten and wounded with bayonets. Look at the scars. I will never go back to Côte d'Ivoire."

The situation is gradually normalizing in Côte d'Ivoire, resulting in large numbers of returns, as well as substantially lower numbers of people fleeing. In recent weeks, the number of new arrivals into Liberia has gone down to a few dozen per week. Some said they were fleeing insecurity while others reported they had been individually targeted.

"I crossed over into Liberia with the hope of returning soon," said Hie, a 32-year-old Ivorian. "However, we still continue to receive reports of atrocities in Côte d'Ivoire. That is why I've decided to relocate with my family from the transit centre to the camp. I don't know when I will see my home again."

His countryman Kapet, 37, agreed on the importance of security. "I have a cocoa plantation in Tabou region but I can't return to Côte d'Ivoire," he said, citing existing tensions back home. "My desire now is to start farming activities here in Liberia."

So far UNHCR has established five refugee camps in eastern Liberia to host the refugees. These camps include Bahn in Nimba county and Little Wlebo in Maryland county, while Solo, Dougee and Ziah transit centres in Grand Gedeh county have been developed into camps. Services in these camps include food, clean water, healthcare, shelter and education. There is also land that refugees can farm.

During a recent visit to the camps, UNHCR's Representative in Liberia, Cosmas Chanda, noted, "We welcome the increase in relocation both for economic and security reasons as it will enable the LRRRC [Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission], UNHCR and NGO partners to provide better assistance to refugees in camps than when they are scattered in more than 200 villages, which is a huge logistical challenge."

The five-month conflict in Côte d'Ivoire uprooted hundreds of thousands of civilians both within and outside of the country, including more than 153,000 Ivorians who crossed into Liberia.

By Sulaiman Momodu in Harper, Liberia

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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.