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UN agency relocates staff as new rebel clashes in Liberia engulf refugee camp

UN agency relocates staff as new rebel clashes in Liberia engulf refugee camp

Fearing for the security of humanitarian workers as new rebel fighting engulfs its refugee transit camp in eastern Liberia, the United Nations refugee agency today said it has relocated staff from all locations along the border between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire and voiced concern about the fate of 5,000 people seeking asylum.

“Following fresh hostilities in Toe Town, we have relocated most of our Liberian staff from our four border locations to Monrovia,” a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kris Janowski, said at a press briefing in Geneva. “Besides the refugees, we are also very concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers in the region.”

Mr. Janowski said this second attack comes on the heels of clashes 80 kilometres north of Zwedru that left three humanitarian workers of the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) dead. Just weeks after, four staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were also killed on the Côte d'Ivoire side of the border.

“The unstable situation in Liberia has severely hampered our efforts to assist some 100,000 persons – Ivoirian refugees as well as Liberians and other West Africans previously living in Côte d'Ivoire – who have fled into Liberia since November,” the spokesman said, expressing concern over the fate of the people affected by the conflict.

UNHCR said it was particularly concerned about the 5,000 refugees who were at the agency’s camp in Zwedru when the fighting erupted. On Wednesday, rebel forces attacked the town near the border with Côte d'Ivoire. Mr. Janowski stated that “two of our local staff managed to escape to the south, but we have no information on the whereabouts of the refugees.”

Liberia's eastern regions were relatively untouched by war until a few months ago, when people fleeing the conflict in western Côte d'Ivoire started flooding in. Since then, the Ivoirian crisis has trickled over the border. More than 120,000 people have been affected by the six-month conflict, which remains largely unpredictable despite progress on the political front.