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International agency Oxfam today welcomed the visit of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, to Liberia, as it called on the international community to pay greater attention to the worsening refugee crisis in the country.
The UN estimates that 46,000 refugees have fled into Liberia in just the last month, as a result of continuing political violence in the Ivory Coast, adding to tens of thousands already there. Some 1.3 million people live along the Ivory Coast side of the border with Liberia – and continued fighting could force a large proportion of them flee.
Oxfam called on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to push donors to fund the aid response to the crisis. The UN appeal is just a quarter funded, and a serious shortfall could leave agencies unable to cope with future refugee flows.
Chals Wontewe, Oxfam’s Country director in Liberia, said: “This visit must put a spotlight on a crisis that is unfolding under the international community’s radar. Fighting is spreading across cities in the Ivory Coast, and the risk of large-scale refugee flows is high. But despite the gravity of the situation, it is not getting the attention or funding it deserves.”
The agency also called the High Commissioner to take action to ensure that refugees wanting to move into camps in Liberia’s interior are able to get there.
Wontewe continued: “The border areas are dangerous, and living conditions there are desperately poor. There is an urgent need for transportation to help refugees move to camps further inside Liberia, where food and shelter can be safely provided. This needs to happen before both the rainy season and further refugee flows make the challenge even harder”.
The majority of refugees are staying with host families near the border, but conditions for refugees are dangerously inadequate, with most lacking adequate shelter, clean water and basic sanitation. Of the tens of thousands of refugees in Liberia, just 1700 people have moved to the first camp at Bahn. Poor roads and a lack of transport are key barriers to getting them there.
Oxfam airlifted relief supplies for up to 70,000 people into Liberia last week. The supplies are being sent to Nimba, Grand Guedeh, and Maryland counties where Oxfam is starting water and sanitation work in response to this emergency. It also plans to help families hosting refugees to restock their diminished food supplies.
Notes to editors
1. UNHCR has registered 46,000 refugees arriving in Liberia since 24th February, until March 2011, and 37,000 there before that date. There may, however, be double counting between the two figures, so the total is not known with any certainty. This is, addition to some 370,000 people displaced in Abidjan and western Ivory Coast.
2. The latest UN contingency plans report that 250,000 refugees could flee into Liberia from the Ivory Coast.
3. The UN has asked for 120 million US dollars to cope with the refugee crisis but less than a quarter has been made available so far.
4. Oxfam is successfully delivering targeted aid to help eliminate global poverty. Last year, we helped more than 17m people in 62 countries. Around the world, millions more people are being pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the economic crisis.
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