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24-03-2011 | Africa

Liberian border towns under strain from refugee influx


As fighting escalates in Côte d'Ivoire, the Red Cross is scaling up efforts to help tens of thousands of people fleeing to neighbouring Liberia.

The ICRC along with the Liberian Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is providing clean water to more than ten thousand refugees and their host communities in the border town of Buutuo, whose population has tripled since the upsurge in fighting in western Côte d'Ivoire at the end of February.

Many families were separated during the second mass exodus. In the chaos, children fled in different directions or got lost as their parents made for Liberia. In one week the ICRC and Liberian Red Cross volunteers helped 17 children separated from their parents. The Red Cross delivers messages from the refugees to their loved ones back home and helps those living in host families and camps make free phone calls to the Côte d'Ivoire. So far the ICRC has facilitated 350 calls by satellite or mobile phone.

According to the UN more than 50,000 refugees have crossed the border in the past few weeks, adding to the 40,000 who made their way to Liberia since November's disputed elections.

Their arrival is putting an increased strain on host communities in a country still recovering from the devastating effects of its own 14 year civil war.

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Trucks crammed with men, women and children are making their way from the border town of Buutuo in north east Liberia to camps deeper inside the country. The trucks stop at transit camps, where the refugees snatch a few days rest before going onto the main camp in Bahn. No sooner has one truck unloaded then the next fills up with its weary human cargo.

16 year old Basile and his 20 year old cousin Eric arrived in Karnplay transit camp by truck four days ago after they crossed the border from Côte d'Ivoire. They had been on their way to school in Zouan-Hounien when they heard gun shots. The cousins took flight, sleeping in the bush for two weeks where they foraged for bananas and fruit. Basile has not seen his mother and three brothers and two sisters since.

Eric has managed to ring his mother on a mobile phone provided by the ICRC and Basile has asked his aunt to try and find his mother who has gone missing. The ICRC provides free phone calls for family members in Liberia who want to re-establish contact with their loved ones in Côte d'Ivoire.

ICRC tracing officer Albert Sheldon says as soon as they have more news about Basile's mother he will be able to make another call.

ICRC is also helping refugees in host families reconnect with their loved ones. Viviane fled Côted'Ivoire shortly after the disputed November elections. She is delighted to be back in touch with her father who stayed in Côted'Ivoire and passes the phone to her elderly mother. Since December Viviane and 20 other family members have been staying with Curtis Brown and his family in the border town of Buutuo. Curtis was a refugee in Côted'Ivoire during Liberia's 14 year civil war and says it is now his turn to help the Ivorian refugees.

The arrival of 20,000 Ivorian refugees in Buutuo, tripling its population, has put a strain on the impoverished town. The ICRC is providing clean water for the new arrivals and the host community.
Even before the influx most people didn't have clean water and had to fetch water from the Cesto River for washing, drinking and cooking.

ICRC water delegate IsidoreKieh explains only three of the twelve wells were working but after twenty litres of water they kept running dry. The ICRC with its partners the Liberian Red Cross and International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation is filtering and purifying water trucked from the river, producing up to 75,000 litres of clean drinking water for more than 10,000 people a day.

At the Cesto river crossing point just 50 metres of water separates the two countries and it is feared that as the fighting escalates in Côte d'Ivoire more people will scramble across the river to safety.

(Two B-Roll clips available to preview and download in HD MPEG2 format along with the Shotlist in English and French.)

Duration : 5m 5s
Size : 198.7 KB
On Screen Credit: ICRC or logo

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