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West Africa: repatriation continues

Briefing notes

West Africa: repatriation continues

25 February 2003

In Côte d'Ivoire's main city, Abidjan, Liberian refugees continue to demonstrate in front of the UNHCR office asking to be evacuated out of the country or moved to a safer location in Côte d'Ivoire. Many of them have been living in dire conditions in makeshift transit sites in Abidjan since the conflict erupted last September. They have faced harassment by the local population, who accuse them of siding with the rebels. To date, UNHCR efforts to get the government to identify a safer location for the Liberians have produced no results. We have also been unsuccessful in trying to persuade neighbouring countries to provide refuge.

While we have been unable to resolve the problem of Liberians who cannot go back to their country, we continue to repatriate those willing to return. In the south-west of the country, more refugees have recently come forward asking for repatriation to Liberia. Several of them said they were chased away from the plantations where they had been employed. Some alleged they were beaten and driven away by their Ivorian neighbours. Since February 17, UNHCR has repatriated more than 2,250 refugees from the Tabou area back to Liberia. During the same period, over 43,000 refugees have gone back on their own, despite continued instability in Liberia itself.

Some 36,000 Ivorian refugees have also fled to Liberia. While returning Liberians head to their hometowns and villages deeper inside Liberia, Ivorians tend to stay in border areas, hoping to go back home as soon as the fighting subsides. As a result, many Ivorians are now living in villages among the Liberian population close to the border, lacking adequate food and medical care. Many refugees are malnourished, making them more susceptible to malaria, meningitis and yellow fever.