As number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia tops 22,000, UNHCR speeds up aid delivery
SACLEPEA, Liberia, January 5 (UNHCR) - With the number of registered Ivorian refugees in Liberia topping 22,000 this week, UNHCR is about to step up the delivery of food and other aid to the new arrivals.
The refugees, mostly women and children, have fled because of mounting tension in the country since the presidential election in late November. Most are from western areas of Côte d'Ivoire and are in urgent need of food, shelter and clean water, which are all in short supply in Liberia's Nimba County, where the refugees are arriving.
A UNHCR statement on Wednesday said the refugee agency will send seven trucks this week from the Liberian capital of Monrovia to the eastern town of Saclepea in Nimba County. Five of the trucks will be carrying food and non-food supplies, while the other two are to transport construction material for a campsite to be built in or near Saclepea.
"We have also signed an agreement with the Norwegian Refugee Council to simultaneously distribute the food and non-food relief items in all refugee-receiving villages. In addition, we have recently erected a rubhall [portable warehouse] in Luguato [a border village in Nimba County] to stock relief items, including food," the statement said.
On Tuesday, meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it would immediately make food available for close to 21,000 Ivorian refugees. On Saturday, UNHCR started distributing WFP-supplied high energy biscuits to children under five, lactating mothers, pregnant women and people in poor health. While they await the general food distribution, refugees are helping their host communities to harvest crops in exchange for a portion of the rice, cassava and other staples collected.
"Until now, we have been focusing on delivering aid to the area of Luguato, the largest refugee-hosting region, where the influx first began. We have so far registered some 11,500 refugees there," the statement added. Most are from villages in Côte d'Ivoire's Danane department.
The other Ivorian refugees are hosted in Butuo and Dubuzon and fled from the Guiglo department, also in western Cote d'Ivoire.
The refugees, a mixed group of supporters of rival presidential candidates Alassane Outtara and Laurent Gbago, say they fled their homes at night and walked through the bushes to avoid detection by people holding opposing political views. As a result, their journey took hours longer than normal.
UNHCR staff report that refugees continue to arrive in Liberia on a daily basis. "With additional staff deployed to the border areas, we are hoping to speed up registration, which opens the right to assistance and protection for the refugees," said the UNHCR statement.
By Fatouma Lejeune-Kaba in Saclepea, Liberia