Côte d'Ivoire: flight to Liberia, planning for outflow
Since the outbreak of violence in Côte d'Ivoire on Thursday, at least 1,327 Ivorians - mostly women, children and some elderly - have fled into Nimba county in north-eastern Liberia. UNHCR is extremely concerned over the security situation in Côte d'Ivoire and the impact it could have on its neighbours, particularly Liberia which is itself struggling to emerge from 14 years of civil strife.
The Ivorian arrivals in Liberia, apparently frightened by the sound of gunfire, crossed at several entry points along the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Most of them are now encamped at the frontier town of Butuo, 80 km east of the main Nimba town of Saclepea. The arrivals carried some belongings. Many appeared traumatised but were otherwise in good condition. A convoy arranged by UNHCR, government agencies and international NGOs dispatched emergency aid and medical teams to Butuo from Saclepea on Sunday. The assistance included blankets, plastic mats, soap, jerry cans, lanterns, plastic sheets and high protein biscuits from UNHCR.
UNHCR has a refugee camp in Saclepea which was set up following the outbreak of civil war in Côte d'Ivoire two years ago. The camp, which still accommodates several hundred Ivorian refugees, can shelter 1,500 people. But bad roads make travel in the area extremely difficult.
The only other place reporting an influx from Côte d'Ivoire since the weekend was Ghana, where 270 immigrant workers, mostly from Burkina Faso and Nigeria, arrived. They came by bus through the Ghana border crossing at Elubo. An inter-agency mission is attending to their needs. Several wounded Malians from Côte d'Ivoire were evacuated to Mali for medical treatment.
UNHCR offices in the region surrounding Côte d'Ivoire have been alerted for any contingencies. Planning in case of an outflow of Ivorians is in full swing, including an assessment of emergency stocks and staff in the region. Most of our emergency supplies are in Liberia, where we have been preparing for the return of Liberian refugees since last year.
There have been no reported spontaneous arrivals of Liberian refugees from Côte d'Ivoire since the outbreak of violence last week. But we expect that if the situation in Côte d'Ivoire deteriorates, many of the 70,000 Liberian refugees there could go back. Most of the Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire are in the Tabou region in the south.
Following the end of 14 years of civil strife in Liberia in August 2003, more than 70,000 Liberian refugees have returned from neighbouring countries. On Oct. 1, UNHCR organized the first repatriation convoys under a three-year facilitated voluntary return programme for the 340,000 Liberian refugees in the region.
Around 800 Liberians have returned with UNHCR from Sierra Leone and Ghana since Oct 1. Today, we are organizing the first airlift of 112 Liberian refugees from Nigeria.
With the declaration by the government that six Liberian counties are now safe for returns, we are moving inhabitants of camps for internally displaced people, or IDPs, back to their home villages. UNHCR and its partners hope to help more than 260,000 IDPs in 20 camps return to their villages by next year.