The number of Ivorians fleeing into neighboring Liberia is on the rise. The UN refugee agency says the refugees are entering Liberia through 12 crossing points along a 45-kilometer stretch of border.
Marie Ellen Verney, a spokesperson for the UNHCR in Geneva, spoke to VOA's Joe De Capua. “As of Wednesday, we had 13,000 Ivorians in Liberia, in northeast Liberia," she said. "The night before last, a thousand people arrived overnight. We are waiting for our teams to come back from the border to let us know what is happening today.”
As for the reasons they decided to leave Ivory Coast now, she says, “In fact, this is quite new. Until Wednesday, the refugees were telling us they were fleeing Ivory Coast because they were afraid of what had happened two years ago, the civil war between the rebels and the government troops. And they were afraid that it would start again. This time, this new wave of arrivals, they are telling us they in fact heard fighting.”
The UNHCR has set up a temporary transit center for refugees arriving in the town of Butuo, where they are being registered. But the latest arrivals crossed the border near the northeastern town of Bimplay, about 25 kilometers north of Butuo.
Many Liberians have taken the refugees into their homes. But much of the infrastructure of Liberia remains in ruins following its civil war. Because of that, the UNHCR is warning that a large influx of Ivorians into Liberia could be “disastrous” for the country.
Also, the UN agency says about 900 Liberians, who had been refugees in Ivory Coast, have returned home. There are about 70,000 Liberians refugees in Ivory Coast. In all, there are more than 340,000 Liberians scattered in West Africa due to the civil war.