Almost 22,000 people have now fled Ivory Coast for neighboring Liberia.  Most have crossed the border into Nimba County.  Refugees began leaving Ivory Coast in late November as the political crisis in their homeland worsened.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says it?s stepping up efforts to help them.

?The influx is still going on,? says Ibrahima Coly, the UNHCR?s representative in Monrovia, Liberia, ?and the flow?has been increasing.  We have at the moment an average of between 400 and 500 individuals a day.?

Most of the new arrivals are women and children.

?We have so far 55 percent of the caseloads who are female, but then we have 61 percent who are under 18 years old,? he says, adding, ?They mentioned to us the husbands are behind taking care of the house and whatever property they have there.?

Food and shelter

The center of UNHCR operations is currently in Nimba County, Liberia.

Coly says, ?They are settling within the communities. They are scattered into 23 villages.  And the communities have warmly welcomed them.  Of course we know that those communities are also limited in terms of resources and also in terms of basic services, like water?sanitation ?health facilities, etc.?

U.N. agencies, NGOs and the Liberian government are providing refugees with both food and non-food items and are working to improve health and sanitation services.

As part of food aid, the World Food Program (WFP) is providing high energy biscuits, which Coly says are ?very, very good for children, for lactating mothers (and) also pregnant women.?

The WFP says the biscuits ?contain vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients along with a dose of energy, which helps give disaster victims the strength they need to steer through the crisis. In addition, because they require no cooking, they provide an immediate solution to food needs.?

Seeking safe haven

?The reasons they have mentioned so far ? they fear their political opponents?where they were living.  They felt that their lives were threatened.  A very limited number?claimed to be beaten at a certain time of the political activities,? he says.

Refugees also expressed fear of a repeat of the deadly violence that occurred in Ivory Coast 2002 and 2003.

Plans are underway to construct a refugee camp in Liberia for the Ivoirians.  It would be located at least 50 kilometers from the border.  The UNHCR says the distance provides a measure of added safety.