Thousands pour over Ivory Coast border with more on their way

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 08 Apr 2011

Violent attacks and looting has forced thousands to flee Ivory Coast for Liberia over the past 24 hours, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

As battles continue to surround the presidential residence in Abidjan, serious violence against civilians is still reported in the west of the country.

Oxfam staff in the coastal town of Harper in Liberia say that more than 4000 people have arrived there in the past 24 hours alone, fleeing violence centred around Tabou just across the border.

“We are hearing that as many as 7000 more people are on their way here,” said Shemeles Mekonnen, Oxfam’s Public Health Engineer in Maryland, south-east Liberia.

“People have been caught up in violent attacks and are running from their homes with nothing.

“Refugees are speaking of fighting, looting and burning of homes. This crisis is far from over and the needs are immense.

“People are fleeing for their lives and are in dire need of clean water, food and shelter. Many are saying they are too scared to return home anytime soon. Refugees will need our help for months to come.”

Mekonnen spoke to 56-year-old Catrien Gato, who fled her village Hepo in Ivory Coast, amid conflict. She travelled with her 12 children and grandchildren.

“Things in the village were really scary,” she told Oxfam. “There was a lot of fighting, looting and burning. It seemed everything was being destroyed. The police were nowhere and there was no law and order. I don’t even want to think about going back, things are very dangerous there.”

So far more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees have been registered in Liberia, most are living in extremely poor conditions in transit centres or local communities.

The Ivory Coast crisis has forced more than one million people from their homes. The agency is installing water tanks, latrines and showers in Maryland for the influx of refugees coming over the border in addition to providing clean water and sanitation services to thousands of people further north along the Ivory Coast-Liberia border.

Oxfam has flown in supplies for 70,000 people and is sending a team of aid experts in to Ivory Coast in the coming days to evaluate how to respond to the crisis, but the agency warns that any aid operation will be extremely difficult due to ongoing conflict.

Photos and broadcast-quality footage are available on request. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0400 732 795.