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Lubbers expresses alarm as more Ivorians flee to Liberia

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Lubbers expresses alarm as more Ivorians flee to Liberia

10 November 2004

10 November 2004

GENEVA - U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today expressed deep concern over the deteriorating situation in Côte d'Ivoire as the number of people fleeing to neighbouring Liberia climbed to more than 3,000.

Lubbers warned that an escalation of violence in Côte d'Ivoire could have a serious impact on stability in neighbouring countries, particularly fragile Liberia which is itself emerging from 14 years of civil war. Only last month, UNHCR began a massive repatriation programme in Liberia aimed at the eventual return of some 340,000 Liberian refugees scattered throughout the region - some 70,000 of them in Côte d'Ivoire. Most of the 70,000 are living in local Ivorian communities, but some 8,000 are in two refugee camps.

UNHCR staff along the border in north-eastern Liberia reported today that at least 3,000 - and possibly as many as 5,000 - Ivorians have arrived in the past few days. Hundreds of other people have gone to Ghana.

"Ivorians are fleeing their homes because they are scared," Lubbers said. "The situation in Abidjan is tense and dangerous, there is violence and looting, and in some parts of the country essential services like water and electricity have been cut. If this goes on, there is a big risk of mass displacement of Ivorians and of the Liberian refugees there as well. It is essential that a quick and peaceful solution be found to avoid such a disastrous scenario."

Most of the refugees in Liberia are now encamped in or near the north-eastern town of Butuo, adjacent to the border with Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR, in cooperation with the Liberian government and international NGOs, sent staff and emergency aid and medical teams to Butuo over the weekend. They brought blankets, mats, soap, jerry cans, lanterns, plastic sheeting and high-protein biscuits. However, roads to the Butuo area are extremely bad and any sizeable increase in new arrivals would probably necessitate an airlift of supplies.

"Liberia faces the enormous task of rebuilding, which includes the reintegration of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens," Lubbers said. "At such a difficult and fragile stage in the rehabilitation of Liberia, a large influx of new refugees from Côte d'Ivoire would be very detrimental, creating further poverty and instability. This is why the situation is so worrying, not only for Côte d'Ivoire, but for the entire region."

UNHCR offices in surrounding countries are on standby and carrying out inventories of emergency stock and staff that could be re-directed to Liberia or elsewhere should the crisis worsen.