afrol News, 3 April - The entire food relief provided to the "low-income, food-deficit country" Côte d'Ivoire goes to nourish the growing number of refugees, mainly from neighbouring Liberia. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled the fighting in north-western Liberia, where rebels are moving in on Monrovia. UN agencies expect an even greater influx of refugees in the near future.
The total number of Liberian refugees and internally displaced in uncertain, but it is growing from day to day as the rebels known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) are launching attacks closer and closer to the capital, Monrovia. The purges against the opposition by Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, disguised under military emergency laws, have further increased refugee numbers.
The estimated number of Liberian refugees in December 2001 was set at 40,000 by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) - the lowest number since the Liberian 7-year Liberian civil war began in 1992. The trend of repatriation was turned about this moment, as LURD started to emerge from their bases at the Guinean border. "Over 10,300 refugees have arrived in Côte d'Ivoire since May 2001," the UN food agency (WFP) now made public.
The overall situation in Côte d'Ivoire and in the areas bordering with Liberia however remained stable, WFP says in its latest 'Emergency Report'. On 15 March, UNHCR had registered almost 2,300 refugees who have arrived since 11 February. However, "the flow has been slightly reduced in the last couple of weeks. The refugees are reported to come primarily from Monrovia and Grand Gedeh, areas threatened by LURD.
WFP assists all those who volunteer to settle in Nicla refugee camp (at Guiglo) with food aid. Over 2,800 refugees are currently receiving assistance from WFP at Nicla camp. On 18-22 March alone, 50 tons of food were distributed in collaboration with Caritas and the government. This means that all food aid going to Côte d'Ivoire - except for aid to a community school feeding programme - goes to refugees.
Aid by the two UN agencies does however not amount to the total needs of the growing number of refugees, who, according to international law, are the responsibility of the Ivorian government. UNHCR has endeavoured to "transfer health and educational services to the government to allow a gradual scaling down" of its own involvement. Liberian refugees are assisted to reach "an adequate level of self-reliance," meaning they are to produce some of their own food on Ivorian soil.
Côte d'Ivoire is classified by WFP as a "low-income, food-deficit country". Although endowed with a strong agricultural base, particularly in export crops such as coffee and cocoa, it is estimated that up to 40 percent of the country's own population is not able to consume the recommended 2,150 calories per person on a daily basis.
The country is however by no means in an exceptional position in Africa. Neighbouring Guinea at one point had half a million refugees, mainly from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Sierra Leone, repatriating its own refugees, is currently receiving more refugees from Liberia than Côte d'Ivoire, being closer to the conflict zone. Most of the costs maintaining the refugees - financial, social and environmental - always are left to the host country.
A UNHCR mission is currently visiting Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast to assess the capacities of these countries to receive the expected major influxes of new Liberian refugees. In Côte d'Ivoire, "a major concern is the urgent need to identify new sites for refugee camps," WFP reports. This was written before the Tuesday LURD attacks on an army base 35 kms from Monrovia; a new escalation of the Liberian civil war.
Meanwhile, the number of Liberian refugees arriving Europe in comparison is minimal.
Sources: Based on WFP, UNHCR and afrol archives