As the violence between supporters of presidential rivals in Cote d’Ivoire continues to escalate, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), along with the Liberian government, are taking steps to accommodate the approximately 70,000 Ivorian refugees that have crossed the western border in the past several weeks. Although Ivorians began arriving in small numbers in November, UNHCR workers have received over 30,000 people in the last several days, according to the agency.
While UNHCR workers continue to transport people to a refugee camp in Bahn, which lies in the Nimba County just over 50km from the border of Cote d’Ivoire, a second campsite in Garwee is being assessed for building conditions to accommodate more people. The camps have been built to take the pressure off the 70-plus host villages along the border, where most refugees currently reside.
“Liberians have been amazingly generous,” said Fatoumata Lejeune’kaba, a UNHCR Public Information Officer. “They do feel the weight of these people, because they’re sharing everything they have. They’re running out of water, their food has depleted. They’re asking the help of the UN.”
Although the camp in Bahn has the capacity to hold around 15,000 people, there are only about 500 refugees there so far, according to a UNHCR representative. Poor and limited road conditions, the number of refugees spread around the various, remote villages and the choice given to refugees to stay with their hosts has made transporting people to the camp a slow process; currently, about 100 people are being taken to the camp daily.
In the host villages, Ivorians do tasks like working in rice fields or harvesting in exchange for a share of the limited resources available.
“But it’s not sustainable,” said Lejeune’kaba. “The World Food Program has been helping us and sending food.”
The refugees who decide to go to Bahn are given access to basic resources like food, kitchen supplies, toilets, showers, proper medical attention, and blankets.
Details on when the second camp in Garwee will start receiving people are still unclear, as the process of setting up is still in its beginning stages. UNHCR workers have conducted a geophysical survey to be certain that there’s water available. The area itself is a jungle, which will have to be cut and cleared out, as was done for the Bahn campsite. Until the land is cleared, the agency cannot properly estimate the capacity for the site.
The majority of Ivoirian refugees entered into the eastern border of Liberia, an event that was anticipated thanks to Ivoirian hospitality during Liberia’s two civil wars, where thousands were displaced from their homes. But UNHCR representatives are also ready to receive people in another neighboring country.
“In Ghana so far, we have 100 refugees only. We were actually expecting more… but in case they have come to Ghana, we are actually prepared for it,” said Babar Baloch, a UNHCR Communications Officer.
During a noon press briefing on Tuesday at the UN headquarters, Spokesman for the Secretary General Martin Nesirky told the press that there have been reports of armed groups preventing people in the Abobo district of Abidjan from fleeing the area to safety. He also mentioned that the UNHCR has been making efforts for humanitarian access to these people.
It is uncertain whether these efforts will be successful, or if the agency will be able to set up a camp in the western part of the Ivory Coast, particularly now that rebels have turned off electrical power in the northern part of Cote d’Ivoire, and fighting has moved to southern Abidjan, according to the BBC and Reuters.
In further discussions, the Secretary General will give a report on Liberia on March 16.