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Stranded Liberian refugees arrive in Abidjan port


Stranded Liberian refugees arrive in Abidjan port

The passengers are in poor condition, with many needing food and medical attention. UNHCR is negotiating with the Ivorian authorities to let the boat dock and its passengers disembark so that they can receive proper assistance.
21 May 2004
Drifting off the coast of San Pedro, the Dona Elvira boat has been towed back to Abidjan.

ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, May 21 (UNHCR) - A boat carrying hundreds of Liberian refugees in bad condition has been towed into a harbour in southern Côte d'Ivoire, where it is awaiting government permission to dock.

On Friday afternoon, the Dona Elvira arrived at the port in the southern Ivorian city of Abidjan after a tumultuous 18-day voyage on the Atlantic Ocean. The boat had set off on May 3 from Nigeria, stopping in Ghana before sailing towards Monrovia with hundreds of Liberian refugees returning home on their own. The engine failed along the way, and the boat drifted for two days off the southern Ivorian coast before it was rescued.

In Abidjan, a UNHCR representative who boarded the Dona Elvira said there were 340 passengers on board - 330 of them Liberian refugees - instead of 430 as previously reported. Conditions on the boat were "appalling" and "unacceptable", he said, noting that people were lying on the ground, one on top of the other.

He added that there were no toilets and that the boat smelled of sickness.

There have been reports of diarrhoea on the boat, and five of the refugees need medical evacuation. Medicine and high-protein biscuits have been brought onto the boat.

The refugees told the UNHCR representative they had paid $150 for the journey to Monrovia, and had expected the trip to take three days. The refugee agency, which is not encouraging returns to Liberia at the moment, did not organise the voyage for the spontaneous returnees but was told to expect the boat in Monrovia.

UNHCR is currently negotiating with the Ivorian authorities for permission to dock in Abidjan so that the passengers can disembark and receive proper assistance.