News / Africa

Ivory Coast Refugees Living With Former Liberian Refugees

Women pound cassava in the village of Zeaglo near the Liberia border in western Ivory Coast, April 19, 2011
Women pound cassava in the village of Zeaglo near the Liberia border in western Ivory Coast, April 19, 2011

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Bigger refugee camps are going up along Liberia's eastern border for more than 150,000 people who fled Ivory Coast's political crisis, earlier this year.  Many Ivorian refugees are living in local villages with friends they made during Liberia's civil war.

Nearly 4,000 Ivorian refugees have tripled the population of the Liberian border village, Janzon.  Fleeing political unrest at home, they found old friends in Liberia.  Janzon chief James Mowon lived 14 years in Ivory Coast, during Liberia's civil war.

"Before 1990, we ran away and went to Ivory Coast," said Mowon.  "Nobody would be in this area.  So we stayed there for about 14 years.  My very self I didn't go in the camp.  I was in the town for those years.  So now when they come, I have to hold [help] them and do my best."

Mowon is sharing his home in Janzon with the man who took him in in Ivory Coast, Alphonse Bade.

Bade says Chief Mowon and his family came to live with them during Liberia's civil war. Now they have come to his village along with people from 11 other Ivorian villages.  Bade says they are welcome here and have been given land to farm and build houses.

The United Nations refugee agency's Sianie Zaza Kolubah says the reception in Janzon has been remarkable.

"They are so hospitable to the refugees," said Kolubah.  "Even if services are delayed in going to that community, they are already integrated in the community making their farms on land provided by the local community, and they have got houses built there to shelter them also."

With the Liberian government trying to move more Ivorians into camps, Kolubah says many of the refugees in Janzon intend to stay put.

"During the Liberian war, refugees who left from Liberia to Ivory Coast stopped with people who also fled this Ivorian war," Kolubah added.  "So those who were hosted as Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast do not want their host to go to the camp. They want them to stay with them no matter what it is.  So, [with] these kind of refugees, it will be hard for them to go to the camp."

Bade says it is not yet safe enough to go home, so Ivorian refugees are settling in to Janzon where he says they are respected like family.

We speak the same language, Bade says. When Liberians were in danger, they came to Ivory Coast.  Now that Ivorians are in danger, they have come to Liberia.  It is what Bade calls "a fraternal union."

Aid groups are in Janzon to help the refugees and their hosts.  The U.N. refugee agency and World Food Program are delivering food. There is free health care at the clinic provided by the British medical group Merlin.

With another 11,000 Ivorian refugees living in areas around Janzon, Chief Mowon says the people of his village are prepared for the long-haul because they know how long they were refugees themselves.

"I am appealing to them not to go yet," said Mowon.  "Let them be with me. Whether 10 or 15 years, they will be here."

Many refugees say they would rather stay in villages where they are closer to the border, closer to the crops they have planted and are living with friends and family. For the moment, the government of Liberia says relocation to refugee camps is not mandatory.


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