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Liberia Still Faces Humanitarian Disaster - 2003-09-04

The UN refugee agency says Liberia is facing a humanitarian disaster. Despite the signing of a peace deal and the partial deployment of peacekeeping troops, many thousands of people remain at risk due to fighting, lack of food and shelter, and harassment by militias. What’s more, the UN agency says the whereabouts of thousands of Ivorian refugees are unknown. Many parts of the country remain inaccessible to humanitarian agencies.

Astrid Van Genderen Stort is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Monrovia, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about humanitarian efforts.

She says the agency sent out assessment teams to the northern parts of the country, in the Salala area, where they encountered “an exodus of 50,000 people.” She says they were displaced because “there was a rumor of an attack of the LURD rebels in the north; and there were government militia harassing the people in the IDP (internally displaced people) camps.” As a result, the UNHCR and other agencies have sent trucks to the area carrying plastic sheeting and high protein biscuits.” She says, “This is a new emergency while the crisis already on the ground is huge.” The UNHCR is trying to prevent the 50,000 from traveling to the capital, Monrovia, which is already overcrowded. But she says Monrovia is perceived as being more secure because of the presence of ECOMIL troops.

Ms. Van Genderen Stort also says the whereabouts of about 38,000 Ivorian refugees are unknown. Some are believed to have crossed the border back into their homeland, but many remain in the country and may be in need of food and medical assistance.

She says, “It’s very important that this peace agreement is really implemented soon, that access for the humanitarian agencies will be everywhere and that people feel safe to go there.”

Click above links to download or listen to interview with UNHCR.