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Liberian Refugees Continue To Cross Into Ivory Coast - 2003-05-26

Liberian refugees continue to cross the border into Ivory Coast. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the influx began May 15th, when rebels of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, MODEL, attacked the town of Harper.

Astrid Van Genderen Stort is the UNHCR spokeswoman in Ivory Coast. From Abidjan, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about Liberians crossing the border. She says, “The latest situation is it’s still ongoing. Surprisingly, we actually thought that it would be a big influx and then it would calm down because it would all be related to the taking over of Harper by the MODEL rebel movement.” However, she says, “Over the past weekend, we have heard continued reports of new arrivals. We think there are over 15, 000 people now.” More than 2,000 people are reported in the transit center in Tabou, which was built to house only 700. The rest of the refugees are believed dispersed among villages close to the border.

Ms. Van Genderen Stort says the UNHCR has not been able to get to many of the refugees due to the terrain. She says others may have arrived that the agency is not aware of. She describes them as in “physically OK condition, but traumatized.” She adds there have been requests for a refugee camp in Ivory Coast near the border.

However, Ms. Van Genderen Stort says the situation within Ivory Coast is making that difficult. Many people within Ivory Coast itself have been displaced because of the civil war, and many Ivorians do not want refugee camps within their communities. She estimates the number of people displaced within Ivory Coast at about a half million.