As the violence in Côte d’Ivoire continues, hundreds of thousands have poured across the border into Liberia. A vast majority of women and children live in unimaginable conditions in refugee camps. SOS Children’s Villages is organising a relief convoy and preparing to register hundreds of unaccompanied children.
According to UN estimates, over 125,000 people have fled the violence in Côte d’Ivoire and crossed the border to Liberia. Alassane Ouattara won a November election which previous president Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede, leading to a four-month power struggle that ended when pro-Ouattara forces captured Gbagbo on 11 April. But violence continues. Many people have drowned in the attempt to cross the river separating Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. Although exact numbers are extremely difficult to come by due to the chaotic situation, close to 40,000 people are estimated to be currently living in five refugee camps on the Liberian side of the border. The vast majority are women and children.
Urgently needed goods for refugee camp
A team of SOS co-workers has visited the Bahn refugee camp to get an overview of the living conditions in the camp and to assess the most urgent needs. In close cooperation with Liberian authorities and other NGOs, they will put together an emergency relief convoy that is to deliver the most urgently needed goods and food supplies to thousands of children and women.
Hundreds of children got lost in the chaos
During the distribution of the goods, the SOS co-workers will also try to identify and register as many unaccompanied children as possible to undertake efforts to reunite them with their families, if possible. Since many of the attacks in Côte d’Ivoire took place during school hours, hundreds of children are alone and must fend for themselves. The fact that the camp disposes of almost no electricity adds to the unsafe situation in the pitch-black of night.
Children are starving
The most pressing need in the Bahn refugee camp, where thousands of women and children have found temporary shelter, is food. Although some food has been distributed by relief organisations, the demand vastly exceeds the supply, and mothers are forced to provide for their children by whatever means necessary. A social worker at the camp says that many go to work on farms in the area for just a few grains of rice. “Mothers feed their children with anything they find just to make them stop crying”, she says.
Sanitary conditions dismal
The hygienic conditions and shortage of supplies at the Bahn camp make the outbreak of cholera seem likely, many children are dehydrated due to diarrhoea and vomiting. One desperate mother told SOS co-workers that she and her children have only one bucket that they use both for washing and drinking. “It’s embarrassing”, she says. “We need more buckets!”
Many children already ill
The risk of spreading disease is further exacerbated by the lack of the most basic utensils. “We have not received any mosquito nets since we arrived, and many of our children have already developed nightly fevers,” says one older woman in frustration. Pots, plates and spoons are also urgently needed, since people are forced to eat with their hands out of the same bowls, further increasing the risk of infection.