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Another aid airlift arrives in Liberia as flow of Ivorian refugees continues


Another aid airlift arrives in Liberia as flow of Ivorian refugees continues

A UNHCR-chartered aircraft carrying 100 tonnes of shelter aid arrives in Liberia as the number of Ivorian refugees to arrive in recent weeks passes 36,300.
14 February 2011
Workers unload the Boeing 747 carrying UNHCR aid at Monrovia's Robertsfield International Airport.

MONROVIA, Liberia, February 14 (UNHCR) - As a UNHCR-chartered aircraft carrying 100 tonnes of emergency shelter aid landed in the Liberian capital of Monrovia on Monday morning, the number of refugees to arrive in the country from Côte d'Ivoire in recent weeks passed the 36,300 mark.

The Boeing 747 flight - the third organized by UNHCR to Liberia - landed at Roberts International Airport with a cargo of 15,000 plastic sheets, more than 400 rolls of plastic sheeting and 400 lightweight family tents. Many of the items were sent immediately to north-east Liberia's Nimba County, where UNHCR is helping to set up a camp for up to 15,000 refugees.

"Seven trucks carrying the stocks are expected to reach Nimba County today," said UNHCR Supply Officer Yohannes Hailu Gebre-Mariam. "The tents and plastic sheeting will then be used to construct temporary shelters and for the bathing and sanitation areas in the camp."

To date, the 36,318 refugees registered with UNHCR have been staying in 76 villages in the country. The registration process is continuing with UNHCR staff estimating that up to 100 people are crossing every day from western areas of Côte d'Ivoire. Tension has been mounting since the presidential election of last November, with the rival candidates both claiming victory.

Many of those fleeing into Liberia are avoiding the main crossing points and using small trails or going by boat along canals and other waterways connecting the two countries.

UNHCR and the Liberian government hope in the next few days to start moving some 15,000 of the refugees into the camp being built at Bahn. They have also identified 15 villages that have agreed to shelter the remaining refugees, who would be moved from the areas where they are currently staying.

Both the camp and the villages are located more than 20 kilometres from the border with Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR is working closely with the government and other agencies to ensure that essential facilities and services, such as food, water, shelter, sanitation, education and health care, are available in both the camp and the relocation villages.

Last Saturday, UNHCR launched a campaign to inform the Côte d'Ivoire refugees about the options available to them. "Through the campaign, we hope to help the refugees make a fully informed decision about whether to move to the camp, the relocation villages or to remain at the border," said Raouf Mazou, a deputy director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau. "We hope to start moving people into the camps and relocation villages this weekend," he added.

Meanwhile, because of the difficult terrain and lack of infrastructure, humanitarian agencies are struggling to reach all the refugees in good time. So far UNHCR has distributed basic household items such as blankets, plastic mats, jerry cans and kitchen sets, along with food rations for up to 20,000 refugees in villages along the border. Distributions will continue once the refugees have been moved.

By Sulakshani Perera in Monrovia, Liberia