Agency warns of potential regional crisis as thousands flee Ivory Coast to neighbouring countries

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 06 Apr 2011

Thousands of people are reported to be making their way to the border area after the latest battles and violence against civilians in the West African nation of Ivory Coast.

One million people have been made homeless by the ongoing political violence but international aid agency Oxfam warns the full picture of the humanitarian crisis is yet to emerge.

“This crisis has been kept in the shadows for far too long. Only now is the world recognising the immense scale of the human suffering with more than one million people forced to flee their homes,” said Oxfam Australia’s acting emergencies manager Richard Simpson.

There are already more than 100,000 refugees who have fled to remote border villages in neighbouring Liberia where Oxfam has set up water and sanitation facilities. Some managed to make the difficult journey through the forest to some sort of sanctuary across the border in Liberia.

Oxfam is already providing clean water to refugees who have sought safety and assistance in Liberia and will be sending aid experts into northern Ivory Coast over the coming days to evaluate how to respond to the crisis.

“We are helping people who have walked for long days to reach the border, they are exhausted and in need of immediate assistance,” Mr Simpson said.

“We are getting aid to people who have fled but conditions for refugees are very difficult and we need a huge aid push to avoid a public health disaster.”

The agency is working in transit sites in Grand Gedeh eastern Liberia and will be distributing essential relief to refugees, as well as helping families hosting refugees to restock dwindling food supplies.

Oxfam has flown in supplies for 70,000 people and will provide long-term support to local communities, many who have been generously helping refugees since the disputed election last November.

“Families in some poor border villages have been supporting refugees for months and have nothing left to give,” Mr Simpson said.

Oxfam warns that any aid operation will be extremely difficult due to ongoing conflict.

“This aid operation will not be easy. There are huge needs and a logistical mountain to climb. Even when fighting ends, we know there will be months of work ahead to help people start to put their lives back together.”

Footage and photographs from affected areas in Liberia are available on request. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795.