An official of a US-based non-profit group says her organization and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are concerned the escalating violence in Ivory Coast and the refugees it generates could undermine Liberia’s fragile peace.
The number of refugees flowing into neighboring Liberia increased dramatically last week from 40, 000 to 70,000, according to UN and aid agencies sources.
Anne Goddard, CEO of ChildFund International has just returned from Liberia where her organization works on a wide variety of child protection issues, including re-integrating former child soldiers back into their communities.
Goddard said President Sirleaf is concerned the fighting in Ivory Coast could encourage some former Liberian fighters to again take up arms.
“I did meet with the president (Sirleaf). She expressed great appreciation for our work. She was most concerned at the time about the situation in Cote d’Ivoire and the fighting that just broke out that day in the country and, suddenly, there had been an increase of people crossing the border,” she said.
Goddard says, even though Liberians are trying to return the hospitality Ivory Coast showed them during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, Sirleaf fears the gains made toward peace could be reversed if the fighting continues.
“Liberia is in a very fragile state, still. It’s not that many years since peace came and her concern, which I agree with, is that fighting there (in Ivory Coast) and the great increase in refugees could really affect the country and its stability right now. Because Cote d’Ivoire had accepted so many Liberian refugees over the years, people in Liberia were giving refuge because they were returning the great support that they had gotten from Cote d’Ivoire before,” Goddard said.
She said her organization also works with former child soldiers helping them to reintegrate into their communities.
“We worked with a lot of them in the early days after peace broke out. We helped reintegrate many children back into their communities. There is concern now that some of these children have not been able to find jobs, etc. and, with the conflict spilling over from Ivory Coast into Liberia, these children, young adults now, could be dragged back into conflict again,” she said.
Goddard says she was in Liberia to review her foundation’s work with children, particularly in the area of child protection, which she says began soon after the agreement ending Liberia’s civil war was signed.
“We’ve increased access to schools for many children in terms of helping extend school buildings so there are more schools available to children; we’ve opened what I believe is the first early childhood education program in the country for children from ages 3-5 before they start kindergarten school,” she said.
Goddard also sayd her organization works on teen pregnancy, which she notes is caused by the breakdown of Liberia’s social fabric because of years of civil war.
“I think, in many ways, in a country that has gone into civil war for so long, the social fabric of the country really broke down and it is slowly being rebuilt, and I think that (the) lack of social fabric, which is beginning to rebuild, means the social norms are not there. So, I think girls and boys having sex before marriage is common,” Goddard said.