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Liberian Refugees in Ivory Coast Face Imminent Danger, Says UN - 2002-12-24

The United Nations Refugee Agency says it still has not received permission from the government of Ivory Coast to move thousands of Liberian refugees to a safer area. UNHCR said the refugees must be moved out of the combat zone immediately.

Spokesman Kris Janowski said an estimated 8,000 Liberian refugees trapped in the western conflict zone in Ivory Coast are in imminent danger. He said his agency has asked the Ivorian government repeatedly for permission to set up new sites in safer areas in the southern part of the country. But so far, he said the UNHCR has received no response to its requests.

"Of course, at the moment, as you can imagine, the Ivorian government has a lot of things on its plate and a lot of preoccupations. Nonetheless, we see it as a very urgent matter because if the front-line moves, these people could really be in huge jeopardy since the rebel forces on the other side of the line are their traditional enemies and do perceive them as enemies," Mr. Janowski said.

This particular group of Liberian refugees is waiting in Nicla camp, near the western town of Guiglo, about 50 kilometers from the Liberian border. The camp is in a government-controlled area, but is very close to the front lines. Mr. Janowski said the refugees would be in great danger if the front-line were to shift and the area fell into rebel hands.

He said the Liberian refugees are very frightened at this prospect. "We are hoping that they would not be physically harmed or attacked or massacred. Nonetheless, the possibility of some sort of harm being done to them is very high and that is why in our view it is very urgent to move these people," Mr. Janowski said.

Aid workers who were in Nicla recently report the refugees are so scared they are willing to move to any new, safe site even before basic facilities are in place. Mr. Janowski said the UNHCR and its partners have 50 buses and 20 trucks ready to move the refugees.

He said French soldiers stationed in the area have indicated they would provide security for the transfer. He said everything is set to go as soon as the government approves a new site for the Liberian refugees.