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Thousands of Liberians on Ivorian border poised for return

Thousands of Liberians on Ivorian border poised for return

Some 4,500 Liberian refugees are encamped on the Ivorian side of the border, waiting to return to eastern Liberia as soon as food and medicine become available. However, humanitarian activities are unlikely to be expanded until the area is secured by peacekeeping troops.
4 November 2003
Displaced Liberians returning to Phebe village near Gbarnga in central Liberia, where a UN team visited recently.

MONROVIA, Liberia, Nov 4 (UNHCR) - An inter-agency team visiting eastern Liberia has reported that thousands of Liberian refugees are waiting on the Ivorian side of the border to return home once relief aid arrives - aid that will remain limited until the area is secured by peacekeeping troops.

The team, which returned to Monrovia on Monday after a five-day mission, met local authorities in the eastern Liberian town of Zwedru who reported that some 4,500 Liberian refugees were on the Ivorian frontier about 25 km away, preparing to return home once food and medicine become available.

However, the absence of aid agencies - which suspended activities in the area in March following a spate of rebel attacks - means that humanitarian activities will remain limited until 15,000 UN peacekeepers are deployed in the coming months.

Nonetheless, the population in Zwedru appeared to have increased since the team visited last month. Many of them had fled to Côte d'Ivoire when fighting intensified between June and August this year. According to relief authorities, 3,000 to 4,000 Liberians have already returned to the area following the deployment of West African troops, the departure of former president Charles Taylor in August and the end of the civil war.

From Zwedru, the inter-agency team proceeded overland to Harper in south-eastern Liberia over the weekend. There, they were told that some of the Ivorian refugees who had fled a civil conflict in Côte d'Ivoire have returned home, leaving just 30 Ivorians in Harper.

The team also found that a camp for 1,170 Ivorian refugees was now occupied by displaced Liberians. The camp's infrastructure - shelters and latrines - was still intact, but there was little food or medicine and people lived in fear of military harassment. Some children appeared malnourished.

Meanwhile, a separate security mission travelled to Gbarnga in central Liberia on Saturday. They reported no security problems in the area that has recently seen intermittent clashes between Taylor loyalists and rebel troops.

The 14-year civil war in Liberia displaced hundreds of thousands of Liberians both within the country and in the region. There are some 315,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa.