Aid on the way for Liberian refugees stranded off Ivorian coast
SAN PEDRO, Côte d'Ivoire, May 19 (UNHCR) - Hundreds of stranded Liberian refugees have been found off the Ivorian coast, where their boat went adrift after developing engine problems on the way back to Liberia.
The boat, Dona Elvira, started its journey in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 3, carrying a group of Liberian refugees who were returning home on their own. The boat stopped in Palma, Ghana, from May 6-8, picking up more Liberian refugees. UNHCR did not help organise this return voyage, but was told to expect it in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
When the boat failed to arrive in Monrovia as scheduled, the refugee agency, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Danish Refugee Council tried to locate it in vain. Radio contact was finally made on Tuesday, and the boat was found to be drifting off the coast of San Pedro in south-western Côte d'Ivoire. The captain reported that his passengers needed food, water and evacuation.
With few maritime rescue facilities in the region, many external resources have been mobilised in the rescue operation. They include the Ivorian air and naval forces, the French contingent and the UN peacekeeping force in Côte d'Ivoire.
However, the boat drifted from its reported location on Tuesday night. Reconnaissance planes managed to locate it by Wednesday afternoon. Another vessel in the area is on its way to the boat to bring some emergency aid to the refugees, who are reportedly running out of water. There have also been reports of several cases of diarrhoea among them.
Food and medicine have been prepared in San Pedro in case the boat is towed towards the Ivorian port city.
UNHCR estimates that more than 17,000 Liberian refugees have returned on their own from regional countries since the departure of former President Charles Taylor last August ended the 14-year civil war in Liberia.
There are some 350,000 Liberian refugees in the region and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Liberia.
UNHCR is not actively promoting repatriation at this point because Liberia is not considered totally secure. The agency plans to start organised returns in October, helping 150,000 Liberian refugees in the region to return and reintegrate at home this year.
In the meantime, UNHCR is assisting thousands of returnees who have already come back on their own. Some of them had returned from Sierra Leone through the Bo Waterside border, but had no money to continue their journey. UNHCR has set up a transit centre near the border to receive and transport them to returnee camps near Monrovia.
The refugee agency is currently helping some 7,000 returnees at Perry Town and Siegbeh camps near Monrovia. Unable to go back to their home villages due to insecurity, they receive food and relief items at the camps. UNHCR is in the process of verifying their documents and registering them to get a better idea of their needs and to keep track of the flow of returnees.