The United Nations refugee agency said it has registered 14,000 Ivorians who fled their country for Liberia amid the post-electoral crisis, and warned that humanitarian needs are growing both for the mostly women and children refugees and for the villagers hosting them.
“The growing number of new arrivals is impacting communities hosting the refugees,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said in a media advisory issued on Saturday. “Food supplies are running short despite efforts by the government and humanitarian agencies to bring in more assistance.”
The agency said the refugees are coming from the western part of Côte d'Ivoire, a country that has been plunged into turmoil after incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in the 28 November presidential election.
The international community, including the UN, has recognized opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the polls, which were meant to advance the peace process in the West African nation, which was split by civil war in 2002 into a Government-controlled south and a rebel-held north.
UNHCR staff on the ground reported that the refugees are walking several hours or even days before crossing by barge the many small rivers marking the natural border between their country and Liberia. Some families said they had walked three to four days through the bush with little food.
Staff are also reporting that host community houses are full and congested. In addition, they are seeing more malnourished children and people suffering from malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea. A few deaths have been reported among the new arrivals, including that of a child who drowned during the crossing of the Cestos river into Butuo, UNHCR added.
Meanwhile, in Côte d'Ivoire, the agency is concerned about reports that some members of the rebel Forces Nouvelles at Gbeinta, in the Danane area, are preventing people from freely crossing into Liberia via the Loguato border crossing point.
This is causing refugees from the Danane villages to deviate their route by up to 80 kilometres southward to enter Liberia.
“UNHCR is calling for the protection of civilians and respect for the right to seek asylum without hindrance,” the agency stated.