As fighting continues in the Ivory Coast commercial capital Abidjan between fighters backing Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast's internationally-recognized president, and soldiers still loyal to the incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo who is refusing to step down, thousands of refugees are pouring into neighboring countries.
Humanitarian aid agencies are warning that time is running out to get help to neglected refugees fleeing the once prosperous West African nation.
“More than 100,000 people have already crossed the border from Ivory Coast to Liberia, twenty thousand in the last week alone,” said Caroline Gluck, the humanitarian press officer of the aid agency OXFAM.
Most of these people, she said, “are living in difficult to access remote border villages. It is quite a challenge to get to these areas.”
Gluck who has just been to the border areas said the refugees are living in dire conditions in border villages. “The rainy season begins next month and the rains have already started. We tried to take in water to help the community which has doubled in size because of the refugee influx and the truck overturned because the road is in such a bad condition. So it is really quite a challenge getting help to the refugees.”
She appealed to the refugees to move a little bit inland so that they can be helped in larger centers more effectively and easily.
“So far there is no sign that has happened. Unless more is done to get people to safe and serviced areas further inland, they risk being cut off as the rainy season approaches.”
Gluck said many families were separated during the conflict and there are many mothers with their young children who are separated from their husbands or young children who fled on their own without parents.
She said although the United Nations has built a camp in one town that can hold nearly 20,000 people only 2500 people are living there at the moment.
“That is partly because a lot of these refugees prefer to live near the border,” she explained, “because they think it is easier to move back across the border when things return to normal.”
“There has also been a campaign of disinformation by some villagers who are telling the refugees that if they go to the camps terrible things will happen to them,” she added.
“Some villagers think if the refuges stay with them they will get more help too.”
Gluck, however, commended Liberians for their generosity to the refugees, saying many had opened their homes; they are hosting refugees, providing food and even clothes.
“But generally these are poor subsistence farmers who have very little themselves,” she said.
Gluck noted that the emergency plan that has been drawn by the United Nations and others to help people in Liberia and Ivory Coast is still under 50 percent funded so there is a critical need for funding.
That funding, she said, “needs to come now because everyday thousands of refugees are coming over. Also when donors make commitments it takes a while for aid to get dispersed into aid on the ground.”