Liberia: Ivorian Refugees Swell …Arrive In Thousands

Ivory Coast refugeesBy: Augustine N. Myers – Amid Fears of Political Violence in neighboring Ivory Coast, Ivorian refugees continue to flee into Liberia through Nimba County in the east.

The UNHCR and the local authorities, including the Liberia Refugees Repatriation & Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), said they have so far recorded a total of 15,120 refugees from villages between Danane and Guiglo in western Cote d’Ivoire while another 4,000 influx had been reported.

Majority of the refugees are women and children, with 62 percent below 18 years of age. The refugees are a mixed group of supporters of both Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.

According to the refugees, they fled due to fears that the political deadlock might lead to civil war in the Ivory Coast.

The flow of Ivorian refugees into Liberia has continued since November 29. They are mostly from Ligbepleu, Tuopleu, Doupleu, Gbeadapleu, Gbinta and other villages between the towns of Danane and Guiglo.

As the numbers of the refugee grow, their presence is putting a strain on the local communities hosting them. Clean water, shelter and food remain the most pressing needs for refugees and the villagers alike as they have very little to survive on. Moreover, the houses are becoming overcrowded.

The UN Refugee Organization “UNCHR” says it is working with members of the Liberia Refugees Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) to identify more villages to host the increasing number of refugees. At the same time, the UNHCR disclosed that talks are being held with the Liberian government regarding the possibility to set up a refugee camp.

In the meantime, UNHCR teams are distributing emergency aid across nearly 20 villages. And as the UNHCR registers incoming refugees, it is said to be providing them with plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, kerosene lamps, soap, as well as other basic household items.

The UNHCR says it currently has supplies to cover the needs of up to 30,000 Ivorian refugees.

The political crisis in the Ivory Coast remains tense. Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential elections, initially scheduled for 2008, were postponed to 29 November 2009. While there was optimism that the elections will take place, there were many challenges facing the authorities.

These challenges include the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of armed militia groups, unification of the treasury (as the former rebellion had a parallel tax collection system), and the transfer of power from the Forces Armées des Forces Nouvelles (FAFN) zone commanders to the corps préfectoral. During the crisis, the FAFN had its own zone commanders who had combined military and administrative power. Professional civil administrators (the corps préfectoral) have been appointed to take over the responsibilities held since the beginning of the crisis by zone commanders.

The failed attempted coup in September 2002, which was followed by the partition of the country in two, triggered massive population displacements both within and outside Côte d’Ivoire. Following a study in 2005, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country was estimated at 709,000.

Approximately 13,000 Ivorians are said to have sought or received asylum in the sub region, mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Mali.

On the other hand, Côte d’Ivoire hosts some 24,800 refugees and asylum-seekers.