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Liberia: hundreds crossing back into Côte d'Ivoire

Briefing notes

Liberia: hundreds crossing back into Côte d'Ivoire

11 April 2003

Intensifying conflict in Liberia is forcing hundreds of people back to neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, itself struggling with civil strife. Some of the tens of thousands of people who had fled fighting in western Côte d'Ivoire for the relative safety of Liberia are now beginning to go back. A UNHCR protection team which visited a border post between Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire for the first time in weeks found that an estimated 50 to 60 civilians were crossing back into Côte d'Ivoire daily.

The team that visited the small frontier post at Nero village, west of the southern Ivorian town of Tabou, said those going back were a mixture of Ivorians, Liberians and guest workers from Mali and Burkina Faso. Liberian border officials told the UN refugee agency that several hundred civilians had passed through the frontier checkpoint in recent days. They added that similar numbers were crossing at other border posts into southern Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR has also been trying to verify reports that a group of some 2,000 people in eastern Liberia could be heading towards the border opposite Tabou.

The recent arrivals in Côte d'Ivoire say they decided to return because of a breakdown of law and order and widespread food shortages in Liberia. One young woman said she had been walking for three days and had been feeding herself and her four-year-old daughter with wild bananas. Another woman gave birth to a daughter in the bush but struggled to the border region and crossed into Côte d'Ivoire with her new-born baby and an older daughter.

Meanwhile, the volatile border areas between the Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire remain out of reach to aid agencies. In Liberia, where 95,000 people of different origins had arrived from Côte d'Ivoire since last November, access to all border areas remains very hazardous due to frequent battles. Humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR, have withdrawn the majority of their staff following an upsurge of fighting along the frontier, where thousands of refugees had settled in transit centres or nearby villages.