May 12 2011

Ivorian refugees in Liberia still in dire need of help

12/05/2011 - Thousands of people from Côte d'Ivoire have fled the civil war and on-going violence into Liberia. The living conditions in the refugee camps along the border are harsh. Children are especially suffering. SOS Children's Villages Liberia has been distributing food and other aid supplies in coordination with UN agencies and NGOs.

Photo: SOS Archives
Distribution of mattresses at Bahn Camp - Photo: SOS Archives

SOS Children's Villages Liberia provided a first shipment of relief items on 5 May to Bahn Refugee Camp; another delivery will follow on 14 May.

Distribution of relief items

SOS co-workers started the distribution immediately in coordination with the camp management. Mattresses and non-food items were given to the most vulnerable. The camp makeshift kitchen was given supplies for the ongoing preparation of hot meals served to the newly arrived refugees. Dry meals such as wheat and rice are also distributed. SOS Children's Villages has also distributed 1,900 mosquito nets and is evaluating further needs and ways of helping together with the other organisations on the ground.

The dire situation of many refugees does not only reflect the precarious conditions in the camps but above all the dramatic impact the conflict in their home country Côte d'Ivoire has on people's lives. More than 3,800 displaced persons have found shelter at Bahn Camp in Nimba County, amongst them some 2,000 children. And more refugees are pouring in every day.

Photo: SOS Archives
Refugees are picked up by UNHCR trucks and brought into safety - Photo: SOS Archives

The most affected are, as usual, the civilians

Woko, aged 23, is caring for her three little siblings since their father died in the conflict and their mother vanished during the escape from the violence at home: "I need help to take care of my little brother and sisters. I have never had a child before. I have no profession and no money to care for them. We depend completely on the food from this camp to survive."

Kapeu, 32 years old, does not know the whereabouts of her husband and her three children. She lost them while fleeing Côte d'Ivoire under cover of night. She urgently needs medical treatment as she is suffering from an abnormal enlargement on her throat. The worries for her family are worsening her health situation: "I believe that I often get sick since my mind is constantly anxious either about my family or about my illness."

There is Touadego who already adopted little Mahan during the first war in Côte d'Ivoire in 2003 and who has lost her husband on the way to Liberia: "I have no money to feed Mahan and myself." Or three-year old Batoua who is beautiful and active but struggles to walk since her feet are twisted backwards from birth and who would desperately need an operation… individual hardships amongst countless others.

Photo: SOS Archives
Children in Bahn Camp are attending makeshift classes - Photo: SOS Archives
Conditions in refugee camps are improving

The general conditions in Bahn camp and the services provided are slowly improving, with aid organisations taking responsibilities in different areas. The refugees are arriving with very few personal belongings. Many of them are picked up by UNHCR trucks after having walked many days through the forests without any food and shelter. The UNHCR has set up hundreds of shelter homes to accommodate the refugees. Many children are suffering from skin disease due to the lack of proper sanitation, hygiene and clothing. Médecins Sans Frontières is operating a clinic on the camp premises to offer desperately needed medical treatment. Save the Children has set up some makeshift school tents to teach children basic subjects and to organise playful activities and art work. The World Food Programme and Action Friend are also organising emergency aid on the ground.

Photo: SOS Archives
SOS co-workers are helping to prepare  - Photo: SOS Archives
Repatriation will take time

Unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable of all the refugees. They are currently being officially registered by the UNHCR and placed with caregivers within the camps until they can be reunited with their families. Reunification cannot be carried out actively at the moment as people are still moving from one transit camp to another, which makes it very challenging to track families. Although the major conflict in Côte d'Ivoire has ended, sporadic violence continues and the displaced, both inside and outside the country, will not be able to return home immediately because of safety concerns.

UNHCR estimates that 166,000 Ivorians have crossed into neighbouring Liberia since the end of November 2010. Most have been living with host communities in villages along the border, stretching their limited resources.

Children and staff from SOS Children's Village in Côte d'Ivoire still "in exile"

Children, youth and staff from the SOS Children's Village in Abidjan, who had to be evacuated due to the escalating conflict in March, are still at the SOS Children's Village in Aboisso, some 100 kilometres east of Abidjan. The staff of the National Office of SOS Children's Villages Côte d'Ivoire, which was finally able to return to its office building in Abidjan in the past days, believes the situation is still too unstable to bring the children back home.