Agencies Preparing Aid for Ivorian Refugees in Eastern Liberia

Since an eighteen-month Ivorian cease-fire was shattered last week, about 19,000 Ivory Coast civilians have crossed into Liberia, local U.N. officials said Friday, with the most dramatic influx in recent days. Meanwhile, humanitarian and relief agencies are preparing to respond to what could be a major humanitarian crisis.

At a cabinet meeting Thursday, defense and security ministers said that official figures showed 63 people were killed and some 1,300 injured after Ivorian planes bombed a French peacekeeping base and France's swift retaliation sparked days of mob violence on the streets of Abidjan.

The violent upheaval had prompted several European nations including France, England, Spain, Belgium, and Italy, to evacuate their citizens from the war-torn coastal nation. Reports released earlier this week estimated that more than 5,000 foreigners were evacuated beginning Nov. 10 up through Nov. 15, while more than 10,000 fled to neighboring countries.

According to a report by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the agency’s regional representative is monitoring the situation and coordinating with the other UN agencies working in the region in order to be prepared for a major humanitarian crisis. LWF reported earlier that approximately 6,000 frightened Ivorians had fled cross the border into eastern Liberia since the crisis in their homeland erupted last week, though that number has since then dramatically increased as the more sought refuge in Liberia in recent days. U.N. officials expect the number to continue to increase within the next few weeks. This, according to Action by Churches Together (ACT), has added pressure on Liberia, a country that is still struggling to recover from its own civil war and threatening regional instability.

Most of the refugees entering Liberia, ACT reports, are without personal effects, especially blankets, cooking utensils, clothing and other essential non-food items (NFIs). However, due to the poor condition of the roads in the heavily-forested Liberian border town of Butuo—where many of the new arrivals from the Ivory Coast have gathered—many humanitarian agencies are reportedly having trouble reaching the new arrivals.

The Associated Press reported that U.N. peacekeepers and the World Food Program would launch emergency airlifts Saturday to Liberia's border with Ivory Coast, where impassable roads are blocking desperately needed food for the thousands of refugees.

Meanwhile, the emergency unit of the LWF Program in Liberia is coordinating with other agencies and has conducted a brief assessment in the area of planned operation for gaps that can be bridged by the Liberia Program.

The most immediate needs identified are NFIs such as quilts, layettes, assorted clothing and sleeping mats, reported ACT. The LWF is planning to assist 5,000 Ivorian refugees in coordination with the UN agencies that are providing food assistance. Lutheran World Relief (LWR) has already pledged an in-kind contribution to cover part of the needs identified. And ACT will respond with Rapid Response Funds to cover transportation expenses of these items as well as the sleeping mats.

ACT reports that it will continue to be in close contact with the members in the region monitoring the situation. An appeal might be forthcoming.