UNHCR renews appeal for Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, Jan 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has reiterated its appeal on behalf of Liberian refugees in strife-torn Côte d'Ivoire, urging Ivorian authorities to keep them out of the conflict and calling on local and regional governments to help them move to safety.
Liberian refugees have been especially vulnerable since rebel fighting broke out in parts of Côte d'Ivoire in mid-September and spread to the west in mid-November. Due to reports that there are English speakers among the rebels, the Liberians are facing growing antagonism from both the local population and security forces. As a result, these refugees are often intimidated, harassed and prevented from moving freely.
In a letter addressed to the Ivorian government this week, the UNHCR office in Abidjan also urged the authorities to stop recruiting refugees into the loyalist forces. It also asked them to instruct youth groups, who control a number of checkpoints, to stop preventing Liberians from fleeing the conflict.
At the same time, the agency has made a wider appeal to the entire Ivorian population to stop regarding all Liberians as rebels, noting that the refugees are in a vulnerable situation in Côte d'Ivoire after fleeing a cruel conflict in their own country.
To ease the plight of tens of thousands of Liberian refugees trapped in western Côte d'Ivoire's conflict zone, UNHCR has again asked the Ivorian authorities to urgently identify a site for their temporary relocation. A proposed site in Grand Lahou, southern Côte d'Ivoire, fell through last weekend when residents there refused to play host, citing security concerns.
UNHCR has also renewed its request to four countries in the West Africa region, asking them to accept a number of Liberians on their soil on a temporary asylum basis. The appeal was first made three weeks ago, but none of these countries has responded so far.
Meanwhile, the situation remains tense near Tabou in south-western Côte d'Ivoire. Large population movements have been reported out of Tabou since armed rebels took control of the nearby town of Grabo earlier this week.
The recent attack has also driven hundreds of frightened Liberian refugees to seek shelter at the UNHCR compound and the Catholic mission in Tabou, and pushed more than 6,000 Liberians back into Liberia at the Plebo crossing point, directly opposite Grabo. More people are reportedly prevented from crossing because of the presence of numerous security checkpoints.
Since the crisis spread to western Côte d'Ivoire on November 19, almost 60,000 people have fled to Liberia, including 35,000 Liberians and 20,000 Ivorians. The refugee agency is strengthening its emergency operations in eastern Liberia to assist the new arrivals and move them to safety.
In a separate development, UNHCR reported that 11 out of 12 Liberians detained in Monrovia have finally been freed after three weeks of security checks. The 12, who belonged to a musical band, had lived in Côte d'Ivoire for a few years and were part of a group of 27 Liberians who were flown home from Abidjan on December 14. They said they were treated well and provided with food and water while in detention. UNHCR is trying to gain access to the remaining returnee who is still being detained in the Liberian capital.