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Desperate Liberian refugees continue demonstrations at UN office in Côte d'Ivoire

Desperate Liberian refugees continue demonstrations at UN office in Côte d'Ivoire

As they have for nearly two weeks now, desperate Liberian refugees continued to demonstrate in front of the offices of the United Nations refugee agency in Abidjan demanding to be evacuated out of Côte d'Ivoire or moved to a safer location.

"Many of them have been living in dire conditions in makeshift transit sites in Abidjan since the conflict erupted last September," a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva today. "They have faced harassment by the local population, who accuse them of siding with the rebels," said Kris Janowski.

To date, the agency has not succeeded in getting the Ivoirian Government to identify a safer location for the Liberians. "We have also been unsuccessful in trying to persuade neighbouring countries to provide refuge," Mr. Janowski said, adding that while UNHCR has been unable to resolve the problem of Liberians who cannot go back to their country, repatriation of those willing to return to Liberia was continuing.

In the southwest part of Côte d'Ivoire, more refugees have recently come forward asking for repatriation to Liberia. According to Mr. Janowski, several said they were chased away from the plantations where they had been employed and others alleged they were beaten and driven away by their Ivoirian neighbours. Since 17 February, UNHCR has repatriated more than 2,250 refugees from the Tabou area to Liberia. During the same period, over 43,000 refugees have gone back on their own, despite continued instability in Liberia itself.

Some 36,000 Ivoirian refugees have also fled to Liberia. While returning Liberians head to their hometowns and villages deeper inside Liberia, Ivoirians tend to stay in border areas, hoping to go back home as soon as the fighting subsides. As a result, many Ivorians are now living in villages among the Liberian population close to the border, lacking adequate food and medical care. "Many refugees are malnourished, making them more susceptible to malaria, meningitis and yellow fever," said Mr. Janowski.