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Difficulties In Helping Those Fleeing The Fighting In Ivory Coast - 2002-12-06

The United Nations Refugee Agency says more than 30-thousand people have fled Ivory Coast over the past week to escape intensified fighting. Lisa Schlein reports from U-N-H-C-R headquarters in Geneva.

The U-N Refugee Agency says most of the people fleeing the turmoil in Ivory Coast are Liberian refugees, many of whom have lived in Ivory Coast for years. U-N-H-C-R Spokesman Kris Janowski says the Ivory Coast, their country of asylum, has become more dangerous than their home country.

He says, "In Cote d'Ivoire, there is fighting, and there are major problems. So, all of a sudden, Liberia looks better for those who were seeking refuge in Cote d'Ivoire. But, the fact that Liberia looks safer than Cote d'Ivoire tells you volumes about what is happening in Cote d'Ivoire. It is an extremely alarming situation, displacing a lot of people in the country, driving people out."

Mr. Janowki says his agency has sent 13 trucks to border crossings in Liberia to pick up returning refugees. He says aid workers are providing water, health care and vaccinations, setting up temporary shelters and digging latrines. Mr. Janowski says nearly three-thousand other people have crossed from Ivory Coast into neighboring Guinea. But, he says, there is great concern for refugees still in Ivory Coast.

He says, "In another alarming development, we have now lost contact with an estimated 45-thousand Liberian refugees who are in Western Cote d'Ivoire. There are no telephone links. The area is basically off limits to humanitarian workers, and, as far as we know, the media. So, basically, nobody knows -- the telephone lines are cut. We do not know what is happening there."

Before fighting between rebel and government forces broke out in September, Ivory Coast housed about 70-thousand Liberian refugees.