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Liberia: Assistance for refugees from the Ivory Coast

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Handicap International has deployed a specialist humanitarian crisis team to Liberia to assist refugees from the Ivory Coast. The aim is to meet the most urgent needs of both the refugees and the communities welcoming them in.

Handicap International has decided to set up its operations at Zwedru, the capital of Grand Gebeh county, in order to work in collaboration with the UN agencies and other NGOs working in the country. "The fleeing Ivorian populations have no choice other than to seek refuge with Liberian families either side of the main route linking the North of Liberia to the South," explains Benoît Darrieux, Handicap International's Emergency Response Coordinator. "They are being sheltered in villages along this route and sometimes in more isolated villages, which are more difficult to reach, but which we have been able to visit using motorbikes. There are large numbers of refugees in the villages, around twenty for each Liberian host family. These families are showing remarkable generosity to the Ivorian refugees which means they have had to tighten their belts, if this situation lasts it may well make them more vulnerable as well."

Handicap International is preparing to set up a team of 7 expatriate workers and 70 Liberian workers. They will be responsible for distributing emergency kits along with specific supplies for the most vulnerable. The association will distribute 3,500 emergency kits including plastic sheeting, cooking kits and candles etc. Around 1,500 of these kits will be specifically allocated to the most vulnerable populations.

Given the extent of the violence in Ivory Coast, the most vulnerable have generally fled the country leaving behind even the most basic items. For this reason Handicap International is also planning to distribute specific equipment: Walking aids (walkers, crutches etc.), pressure relief mattresses, adapted footwear etc. and will adjust its distributions according to the needs identified.

In order to carry out these distributions, the association will set up three Disability and Vulnerability Focal Points (DVFP) at three sites (Zwedru, Pouh and Zhiah). This will allow Handicap International to reach the refugees located along the main route and branch out to more distant communities by means of mobile teams. "It is vital that we have a team that is as mobile as possible as the refugees are constantly on the move," stresses Benoît Darrieux, "and we must have the resources required to follow their movements."

The role of these focal points is also to identify and record vulnerable persons, to ensure that other solidarity organisations are aware of these vulnerable persons and their identified needs, to work on accessibility (latrines, water pumps etc.), and to inform vulnerable populations about the services provided by humanitarian organisations. Psychosocial work may also be carried out.

Finally, Handicap International may also use trucks to transport vulnerable people to transit camps or hospitals, in collaboration with UNHCR.