Number of Ivorian refugees arriving in Liberia rises to 3,500 – UN agency

Women who fled their villages collect water in Guiglo, western Côte d’Ivoire

14 December 2010 – The number of refugees entering Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire, which has been thrust into political uncertainty after the incumbent president refused to concede electoral defeat, has risen to about 3,500 with scores of people arriving every day in Liberian villages along the border, the United Nations refugees agency said today.

The Liberian Government has a policy of not setting up refugee camps so the Ivorians are settling in local communities, with Liberian villagers receiving them into their homes and sharing their resources with them, Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

UNHCR teams have been registering and assisting the refugees, but the villages are far apart and the area has poor roads making transport difficult.

In Guinea, the number of newly registered Ivorian refugees in the south-east of the country remains stable at some 200 people, although some UNHCR partners reported more arrivals in Lola prefecture yesterday. At the request of the local authorities, UNHCR has transferred the group to a transit centre at Bosso, 18 kilometres further from the border.

Ivorians arriving in Guinea walked for two days through the Mount Nimba area. Some were barefoot and others had young children. UNHCR gave them warm meals and other basic items as they fled without personal belongings.

The refugees in both Liberia and Guinea come from villages along the border from Danane to Guiglo in western Cote d’Ivoire. The majority are women with children and are in urgent need of food, clean water, sanitation facilities, clothing, and basic hygiene items.

“So far, we have not seen refugee movements into any of the three other countries neighbouring Ivory Coast. We have nonetheless strengthened our emergency preparedness,” Mr. Edwards said.

Prior to the current crisis, UNHCR was assisting some 13,000 Ivorian refugees who went into exile mainly in Liberia (6,000), Guinea (4,000) and Mali (2,000) during the civil war in their country, which officially ended in 2005.

The UN has endorsed opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s victory in the run-off presidential elections held on 28 November, despite outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo’s claim to have won.

Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa exporter, was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north. The elections were expected to complete a UN-backed process of reunifying the country and restoring stability.

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