UNHCR opens new camp for Ivorian refugees in eastern Liberia

News Stories, 2 September 2011

© UNHCR/G.Gordon
Ivorian refugees in a border area after fleeing their homes earlier this year. Many of those who are still in Liberia are moving to camps.

GRAND GEDEH COUNTY, Liberia, September 2 (UNHCR) UNHCR has opened a sixth camp for up to 27,000 refugees from Côte d'Ivoire who have been living with host communities in eastern Liberia since fleeing their homeland.

The newest camp opened on Thursday on land formerly owned by the Prime Timber Production (PTP) company in Grand Gedeh County. The aim is to improve protection and assistance for the refugees, who are currently scattered across 300 remote locations along the border with Côte d'Ivoire.

The refugees who are relocating told UNHCR staff that they were not ready to return home. They fled to Liberia after violence erupted between the supporters of rival candidates in last November's presidential election, but the conflict ended in April.

By moving to the PTP camp further inland, they can enjoy better services such as monthly food supply, medical care, education, water and sanitation. The camp, the largest of the six in Liberia, also offers family shelters.

"I have decided to relocate to PTP camp because I can get better services there as well as privacy," said Tai, a 42-year-old English teacher from Guiglo who lost a child during the violence. "I am not returning to Côte d'Ivoire now," he added.

The opening of the PTP camp is part of a relocation operation that is taking place along the border. UNHCR expects to move 50,000 more refugees to the six camps by the end of this year, despite logistical challenges posed by heavy seasonal rains and muddy roads.

"We are delighted that we are responding to the expressed desire of the refugees themselves to relocate," said Andrew Mbogori, head of the UNHCR sub-office in the town of Saclepea. He added that dozens of refugees had walked by themselves to the camps.

Under current planning the PTP camp will be the last to be opened in Liberia, as the security situation continues to improve in Côte d'Ivoire. Up to 70,000 refugees are estimated to have repatriated to western Côte d'Ivoire on their own in recent months.

Last month, the governments of Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees. The agreement sets the legal framework for the refugees' voluntary return in safety and dignity. UNHCR is working on the modalities of an organized repatriation movement for which a launch date has yet to be agreed.

More than 173,000 Ivorians are estimated to have crossed into Liberia in the wake of last year's election and the ensuing instability. About 30,000 live in the five other camps set up earlier. In addition, there are an estimated 26,000 Ivorian refugees in 12 other countries in the region.

By Sulaiman Momodu in Grand Gedeh County, 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.