News / Africa

Oxfam Warns of 'Forgotten Emergency' in West Africa

A group of Ivorian refugees trek onwards to the town Gborplay in Liberia, after being ferried across the Cestos river at the border with Ivory Coast in a raft (File Photo)
A group of Ivorian refugees trek onwards to the town Gborplay in Liberia, after being ferried across the Cestos river at the border with Ivory Coast in a raft (File Photo)

The International aid group Oxfam is warning the crisis in Ivory Coast is creating another “forgotten emergency” in Africa as thousands of Ivorian refugees flee into neighboring Liberia.

Tariq Riebl spoke to Voice of America from Liberia’s capital Monrovia. He says the number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia has increased dramatically in recent weeks.

"Most of the Ivorian refugees are still located right in the border regions," he said. "They have been hosted by Liberian villages, which have been very receptive, however lack public health and shelter facilities."

He says as the world’s attention is focused on political upheaval in North Africa the escalating emergency in Ivory Coast risks being forgotten.

A disputed presidential election in Ivory Coast last November sparked violence and unrest.  The incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to step down even though his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, is widely considered the winner.

Oxfam says refugees have been fleeing to Liberia since November, but until last month the exodus was slow paced, around 100 people a day.

But Riebl says in the past two weeks about 30,000 people have fled Ivory Coast.  He says the total number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia is around 70,000. Most, he says, are close to the border and it is too many people for the Liberians who are trying to help.

"The Liberian host community has been very receptive so far, and has been very warm in their welcome," he said. "However as the numbers have been increasing, and recently increasing rapidly, they are completely overwhelmed and unable to cope with the influx."

The head of U.S. based charity Child Fund International has told VOA the number of refugees could threaten the Liberia’s stability. Anne Goddard said Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is also worried.

Civil war ended in Liberia less than a decade ago and the country is still working toward rebuilding its shattered infrastructure.

Riebl says a lot needs to be done to make sure the refugees that have fled to Liberia are housed and have access to water and health services.

"We need to rapidly increase the set-up of camps and put up more permanent shelters further inland to be able to move people away from the border where they can have proper service delivery and also where they can be better protected from the combat that is occurring just across the border on the other side from where they are currently," said Riebl.

Anti-Gbagbo forces say they have taken control of Toulepleu, a town near Ivory Coast’s western border with Liberia, where fighting broke out on Sunday. Gbagbo’s allied forces have not confirmed the seizure.

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