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UN Refugee Agency Says Many Liberian Refugees In Ivory Coast Living In Dire Conditions - 2003-02-25

Political leaders in Ivory Coast are talking about how to include rebel factions in a national unity government as international pressure increases to implement a peace accord and curb human rights abuses.

As the government and rebels in Ivory Coast struggle with the terms of the peace deal, the refugee problem continues. The UN refugee agency says tens of thousands of Liberian refugees are seeking safe haven, having faced harassment by the local population.

Astrid Von Genderen-Stort is a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Abidjan. She told English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua that the situation for Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast is "difficult."

She says the agency has been unable to find safe locations within Ivory Coast because many Ivorians believe the refugees are "supporting the Rebels." She says that's not true, adding most of the Liberians are women and children.

Also, she says neighboring countries are still refusing to accept any refugees from Ivory Coast. She blames this on "refugee fatigue" following years of wars in West Africa and on the false image the refugees have.

Because of the fighting in their home country, many Liberians do not wish to return there. Yet, it's estimated more than forty thousand have done so to avoid harasssment in Ivory Coast. Many Ivorians have also been displaced as well, and about thirty six thousand have crossed the border into Liberia.