Ivorian refugees in Liberia speak of their plight

by George Fominyen | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 3 February 2011 10:39 GMT

The refugees face all kinds of hardship including a lack of food, adequate shelter, proper sanitation facilities and healthcare services

BUUTUO, Liberia (AlertNet) – Since a Nov. 28 presidential poll in the West African state of Ivory Coast ended in deadlock with  incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara claiming victory, more than 30,000 Ivorians have fled to Liberia’s Nimba County.

The refugees, mostly women and children, face all kinds of hardship including a lack of food, adequate shelter, proper sanitation facilities and healthcare services.

Here’s what a few of them told AlertNet:

Why and under what conditions did you leave Ivory Coast? 

Siho Maman Celine, 38: I was near the end of my pregnancy when I heard rumours that the war had started again. People were running so I also started to run with my two children. We left my husband behind.  We did the journey to Buutuo on foot for three days with the children and I was very tired with the pregnancy. The people were kind and the villagers went to the farm to collect food for me. Twelve days after we got here, I had my baby boy, Raj.

Joseph Dagui, 35, 6 children, two wives: In November just after the elections we heard gunshots. People said Gbagbo’s army (government forces) had come to town so we started to run. We slept on our farm for a few days because we had nowhere to stay here (in Liberia) or in Ivory Coast. Then we finally got in touch with one of our own who decided to host us.  

Odile Mento, 26, seven children: I heard that war was coming and escaped with my seven children and my husband. I was afraid of Gbagbo’s soldiers…So when we heard that they had come and there were gun shots we escaped. The people welcomed us well, which is why they even allowed my husband to go and farm with them.

Felicien Ouedje 22: There were soldiers in Bueto (western Ivory Coast) and rebels came to send them away and we heard that they killed a soldier in Tiapleu (western Ivory Coast). I escaped because I was afraid the rebels. They come around saying that they are fighting and suffering for us and we are doing nothing; they would force you to join them in their camp.

What challenges have you faced since arriving in Liberia?

Siho Maman Celine: What I need now is food and care for my baby who is not doing so well. My husband is not here and the family depends on me now as the head of the family. I need help. I have been wearing the same clothes since we arrived. The host families enable us to have food. They ask me to go and harvest rice and I take some of it to eat. This is what has been happening since I gave birth.

Joseph Dagui: The main problem we have is food. In addition, my children were in school in Ivory Coast but now they cannot go to school here because the teaching is in English.  

Odile Mento: There is no more food. We do not eat to our fill. The children and I sleep on the floor in the dust with no mattress. Back home my husband had a very large cocoa farm. I was selling at the market and we had a seven bedroom house. Now I’ve lost everything.

Felicien Ouedje: We have heard that there will be distribution of food aid but we have not seen anything. So we wade across the river that separates Liberia and Ivory Coast to go to our farms to look for food. But for how long can one family really survive on the little bags we carry on our heads? We are here idling in this village and it doesn’t please us. I used to repair radios and also helped my parents on the cocoa farms. Now, some Liberians jokingly mock us that we are refugees and need help like they did before when they came to our country during the civil war here in Liberia.

What message do you have for the politicians in your country?

Siho Mamane Celine: All I have to say is that they should solve their differences so we can go back home.

Joseph Dagui: My prayer is that war should be over. War is not good for our children. The children are the future of the country and if they have to die because of war the country won’t progress.

Odile Mento: I pray that my country will become safe again so that we are able to go back. We would like you to provide us with food and medication until we can return to our country when it is safe.

Felicien Ouedje: As a young Ivorian, I am worried about the future. What I want is for one of them (Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo) to be courageous enough and give up the power struggle and allow the other to rule so that we can have some peace. 

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