West Africa: UNHCR concerned by deteriorating situation
UNHCR continues to be extremely concerned by the deteriorating situation in West Africa.
In the west of Côte d'Ivoire, UNHCR and the government of Côte d'Ivoire have now confirmed the arrival of more than 23,000 Liberians over the past two weeks. The number of recent arrivals is, however, is probably higher since many have made their way into Côte d'Ivoire through informal crossing points over the Cavaly river or along the Atlantic coast. The pace of arrivals has slowed since the week-end but it is not clear what caused the drop.
The refugees say they have fled because of the deteriorating security situation in eastern Liberia, particularly since the MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) rebel movement seized the towns of Harper and Pleebo in Liberia's south-eastern Mariland County last month.
The new arrivals also include a number of Ivorians who had fled to Liberia in the wake of the crisis in their own country but now decided to go back. UNHCR has learned of a group of 1,000 Ivorians in Harper who are asking to be taken back. The Ivorian army is looking at ways of bringing them safely along the 18 km stretch of road to the border crossing at Prollo, and then across the river in pirogues. About 1,000 Malian and Burkina Faso nationals are also believed to be stuck in Harper.
Work has begun on the Tabou transit centre to expand its capacity from 700 to 3,000 people. The transit centre is already seriously overcrowded, with over 2,500 people in it.
Meanwhile UNHCR continues the dialogue with hosting communities on the presence of Liberian refugees. We are happy to report an improvement in the general climate. Whereas many villages were opposed to receiving Liberians in the beginning, more and more are slowly changing their attitude and accepting the situation. We have distributed plastic sheeting in the host villages near the border in a bid to ease the local tensions.
MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] has mobile teams visiting the villages and we remain very concerned about the general health situation, especially of children. Two deaths have already been reported among children and we fear the spread of diarrhoeal diseases.
Weather conditions are making aid effort all the more difficult. Construction work will be very hard and UNHCR is trying to identify community buildings which could be used to shelter some of the new arrivals, pending completion of the transit centre.
Meanwhile, UNHCR staff in Liberia report that fighting between the government and the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels has flared up near Monrovia again. The capital was nearly deserted on Wednesday as news came of President Taylor's indictment. On Thursday, two camps hosting Sierra Leonean refugees, VOA and Banjor, were overtaken by the fighting and deserted which also affected the sprawling neighbouring camps for displaced Liberians. Tens of thousand refugees and displaced people were seen moving into various locations in Monrovia, many of them seeking refuge in the city. Some of UNHCR local staff have also been affected and many have left their homes and are now displaced.