Sunday, 3 April 2011

“Ivorian Refugees, A Threat To Liberia’s Peace”: USG Amos Says Refugee Influx Reaches 120,000

Nat Bayjay, (231-77-402737)

As the influx of Ivorian refugees reaches a peak of 120,000 along the Liberian border, visiting United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, has warned that the refugees’ presence has the potential to destabilize Liberia---a nation too that is emerging from nearly 14 years of civil war.

“I think it is wrong to try to judge these different crises. What we are seeing in La Cote d’Ivoire has the potential to destabilize Liberia”, Valerie Amos told journalists at a news conference over the weekend at the National Headquarters of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in Monrovia.

She disclosed that with only 23% of the total amount needed available, there are risks that the host nation might be on the brink of being let down. “We have only 23% of the money we need. We must not let Liberia down. Investing in humanitarian aid is also investing in Liberia’s peace and security. A stable Liberia is first and foremost good for Liberia but it is also good for West Africa,” she emphasized.

She disclosed that out of US$147 million that has been appealed for, only US$35 million has been realized representing just 23% of the total figure. 

The USG who fears that the locals who are playing host to the refugees added:  “Not so long ago, some of the locals were refugees themselves on the other side of the border.”

Already, there are some 120,000 refugees in Liberia, according to her. The figure, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is estimated to reach between 150,000 and 250,000 people June. The vast majority of refugees remain along the border, with just over 8,500 relocated to safer areas.  A main camp established in Bahn, Nimba County, houses approximately 2,500 refugees. Site clearance continues in preparation for a second site in Garwee, Nimba County and two sites in Grand Gedeh County have now been identified.

Humanitarian concerns come amidst heightened tension in the Ivory Coast where fighters trying to install Ivory Coast's democratically elected president began besieging the main city of Abidjan on Thursday as the top army commander fled his post in the face of a lightning offensive that saw several towns and a seaport quickly falling.

Some 90 villages and towns, according Amos, are serving as host communities for the refugees spread across Nimba, Maryland, River Gee and Grand Gedeh Counties. 
“It’s unfortunate that my first trip here as Under-Secretary General responsible for humanitarian affairs comes amidst the crisis that is unfolding in neighboring Cote d’ivoire where tens of thousands of people seeking refugee here. I returned this evening from the East where I met men, women and children who are glad to be alive but sad and fearful about what is happening in their country.”

The LRRRC Executive Director Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes recently told reporters that 30, 000 refugees of the refugees are currently based in Toe Town, Grand Gedeh County, River Gee County, Bahn in Nimba County, while Maryland County is hosting about 300.
But the USG’s worry follows the same line as other humanitarian agencies: quick pumping in of money.
“With more money, we can deliver more food, provide more shelter and offer more medical treatments to those who are sick. And we can do more”, she said.

With a plea for donors to fast-track humanitarian assistance, the Under-Secretary fears the worst when the rain begins to fall: “When the rainy season starts, getting the aid in will prove even more difficult. We need our donors to dig deeper.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund Deputy Executive Director, Hilde Johnson, visited refugee sites throughout Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties this week to call global attention to the humanitarian needs of both the refugees and the Liberian communities hosting them.

More than 60 percent of those crossing the border in Liberia are children. UNICEF estimates that crisis is impacting a total of 85,000 children from both the refugee and host communities.
“This is a massive humanitarian crisis. It is a children’s emergency and we need to make sure they are protected, fed and educated. Children should not become victims of political disputes,” said UNICEF global second-in-command, Hilde Johnson in a release.

According to UNICEF, approximately 80 percent of the refugees are women and children. In total, approximately 85,000 children (from refugees and Liberian host communities) have been impacted by the crisis, according to the UN agency.

While Amos cries for a balance of US$112 million, UNICEF on the other hand needs about $50 million to provide what it said is critical assistance to children and families in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire affected by the crisis.