The UN refugee agency on Friday started relocating a first group of around 100 Ivorian refugees from Liberia’s border area to the newly established camp at Bahn. The UNHCR says it has plans to move a further 15,000 refugees to the camp over the coming weeks.
The UN refugee agency had hoped to move 150 Ivorians to the new refugee camp in Bahn on Friday. But, in the end, only 98 refugees were able to make the journey.
UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, explains some of the refugees had to travel long distances and were unable to get to the designated departure points in three villages in Nimba County.
He says the refugees who have fled Ivory Coast have been living in some 76 villages along the border areas in Liberia. He says road conditions in this part of the country are extremely poor. This makes it hard to reach the villages to help the refugees and the host communities.
“The UN Mission in Liberia has helped by grading road surfaces, but today’s journey is expected nonetheless to take around six hours,” Edwards said. “The Bahn camp is within easier access of our offices in Saclapea. Refugee there will have ready access to basic services in the camp such as health care, clean water and education. Over the coming weeks we are planning to move in total around 15,000 people into the Bahn camp, although the precise number will depend on how many actually want to be relocated.”
UNHCR’s partner, the Norwegian Refugee Council, is building shelters in the camp that refugees will be able to occupy immediately upon their arrival. But, these accommodations are limited.
Edwards says the significantly larger number of refugees expected to arrive will have to stay in the camp transit center, where they will be given materials to build their own shelters.
“Most of the refugees that we have spoken to have told us they want to be relocated to the camp,” he added. “We are also encouraging this for protection and security reasons. However, there are people who prefer to remain amid local communities and we have identified 15 other locations where we will begin moving people next week. Many of these are women who say their husbands stayed behind in Cote d’Ivoire and are expected to join them soon.”
Edwards notes in both the camp and relocation villages, people with disabilities or vulnerable elderly people who are alone will get help with shelter construction.
The UNHCR reports so far, it has registered more than 38,200 refugees in Liberia’s Nimba County. It says all have fled instability in Ivory Coast following November’s disputed presidential election. It says an average of 100 people continue to cross the border every day.