Resumption of fighting in Liberia results in growing stream of refugees - UN agency

Resumption of fighting in Liberia results in growing stream of refugees - UN agency

Fighting has reportedly resumed in northern parts of Liberia, resulting in a daily growing stream of displaced people and refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.

According to a UNHCR spokesman, the agency was also extremely concerned about the refugees located in camps near the capital, Monrovia, who have been closed off from any UNHCR assistance since the fighting started several weeks ago.

"We have been in contact with them by radio and know that they will run out of food and fuel soon," Kris Janowski said at a press briefing in Geneva. "Without the green light from the Government on the safety of the road leading from Monrovia to the camps, UNHCR cannot undertake any mission to provide additional food. We also fear that elements of the fighting forces at large in the region might start looting these unprotected refugee areas."

Meanwhile on the other side of the continent, UNHCR and its partner agencies have been struggling to help vulnerable Somali refugees in a ramshackle border zone camp in northern Kenya, where 17 people, most of them children, have died of disease and malnutrition since 2 June. Health workers there say contaminated water and lack of proper food are responsible for cases of diarrhoea and conjunctivitis, Mr. Janowski said.

The spokesman said UNHCR estimated that there were 250 refugee families classified as vulnerable in Mandera town and the nearby makeshift camp, located a mere 500 metres from the border. A number of families are headed by elderly women and many include orphans and disabled persons.

UNHCR staff report that refugee children can be seen everywhere in Mandera scavenging for food, begging and trying to find work to help their families survive, the spokesman said. Women often have to walk a fair distance in search of firewood and refugee leaders fear that this makes them vulnerable to abuse.

"The situation on the border has calmed over the past two days, with no gunfire reported in the area," Mr. Janowski said. "However, UNHCR continues to insist on authorization to move the Somali refugees away from the border to existing refugee camps deeper inside Kenya. To date, the Kenyan authorities have declined permission to move the group."