Liberians, once refugees themselves, aid those fleeing Ivory Coast
Fearing violence, more than 30,000 people have fled Ivory Coast for Liberia, which is scrambling to help them. Nearly two-thirds of the refugees are children and more than half are female.
Lucie Ikakehou stands in a long line of people in the searing midday heat, hugging her swollen belly with one hand and stroking her daughter’s head with the other. She’s waiting for a handout of a blanket, a sleeping mat, and other supplies – essentials that she has gone without for the past four weeks.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Ivory Coast unrest
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Five months pregnant, Lucie walked five days from her village in western Ivory Coast to reach this small outpost just over the border into Liberia. Word had reached her village that civil war was coming back to her country.
“I was scared,” she says. So she and her daughter fled.
There is no camp to take her in, although aid workers are rushing to build one. For now, Lucie, her daughter, and thousands of others like them are simply squeezing into the homes of Liberian villagers along the border.
Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo and president-elect Alassane Ouattara remain fixed in an increasingly violent standoff after a disputed election on Nov. 28. Fearing violence, more than 30,000 Ivorians have already abandoned their homes and sought refuge in Liberia, their neighbor to the west.
Aid workers here in Nimba County are scrambling to accommodate the refugees, but distributing food and other essentials is not easy in this part of the world, where a 40-mile journey on a deeply rutted road can take more than three painful hours in an SUV.
Here in Gblarly, about 15 miles from the Ivorian border, aid workers from the United Nations, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Liberian government registered refugees and gave them soap, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans for water, and other supplies on Jan. 12.
There was no food to hand out that day, even though the refugees complained of hunger. Several, including a number of pregnant women, said that they had had little to eat since they began the journey from Ivory Coast. Some have already been here for more than a month.
As of Jan. 12, only one supply of high-energy biscuits had been provided for the refugees. But more food was on the way: A nearby town got a batch of food on Jan. 13, and Gblarly received its first delivery the following day. The supplies include bulgur wheat, beans, vegetable oil, and a blend of cornmeal and soy flour, a mixture that is meant to help stave off diarrhea.