Thousands pour over Ivory Coast border, with more on the way

By Elizabeth Stevens

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Violent attacks and looting have forced thousands to flee Ivory Coast for Liberia over the past 24 hours, Oxfam said today.

As battles continue around the presidential residence in Abidjan, serious violence against civilians is still being reported in the west of the country.

Oxfam staff in the Liberian coastal town of Harper say that more than 4,000 people have arrived there in the past 24 hours alone, fleeing violence around the Ivorian coastal town of Tabou.

“We are hearing that as many as 7,000 more people are on their way here,” said Shemeles Mekonnen, Oxfam’s Public Health Engineer in Maryland, southeast Liberia. “People have been caught up in violent attacks and are running from their homes with nothing.

“Refugees are speaking of fighting, looting, and burning of homes.  This crisis is far from over, and the needs are immense. People are fleeing for their lives and are in dire need of clean water, food, and shelter. Many are saying they are too scared to return home anytime soon. Refugees will need our help for months to come.”

Mekonnen spoke to 56-year-old Catrien Gato, who fled her village Hepo in Ivory Coast, amid conflict. She traveled with her 12 children and grandchildren. 

“Things in the village were really scary,” she told Oxfam. “There was a lot of fighting, looting, and burning.  It seemed everything was being destroyed. The police were nowhere, and there was no law and order. I don’t even want to think about going back. Things are very dangerous there.”

So far, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees have been registered in Liberia. Most are living in extremely poor conditions in transit centers or local communities.

Oxfam is installing water tanks, latrines, and showers in the Liberian town of Maryland for the refugees crossing the border, in addition to providing clean water and sanitation services to thousands of people further north along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border.

Oxfam has flown in supplies for 70,000 people and is sending a team of aid experts into Ivory Coast in the coming days to evaluate how to respond to the crisis, but the agency warns that any aid operation there will be extremely difficult due to ongoing conflict.