Published: 4 April 2011 20:19 CET
About 50 minutes drive deep into the Liberian rain forest – about 7 kilometres from the border with Côte d'Ivoire – lies the village of Sawien. Since the start of the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, the village has seen the arrival of hundreds of people, all fleeing the fighting in their country, running for their lives.
The people we meet are not from one political side or the other, they are just "citizens" as they call themselves, who don't want to die.
Christelle Touhoua is one of them. She is 17 years old and fled her home with her two-week-old baby. She walked for hours in the forest, trying to reach a safe place. The baby has never been vaccinated – a major risk in such an environment.
Among the arrivals, there is a large number of women and young children. They have walked for hours to reach the border and their host village. The quirk of fate is that these refugees from Côte d'Ivoire are now being hosted by Liberian families that they themselves once took in during the conflict in Liberia.
Host community resources depleted
This dramatic influx of people is putting a real strain on host communities, with their very limited resources already overstretched. The population of the village has almost doubled, which means that more and more people need food. The village's resources have nearly been exhausted as this refugee crisis endures. People are hungry: sweet potatoes and cassava leaves are now the main source of food.
In Sawien, there is also no electricity, but the biggest concern is that there is no water. The village well is almost dry. As a woman works the pump, only a few drops come out. People are relying on a small river nearby. Children bathe in it, women wash their clothes in it, and people drink from its dark stagnant pools.
Unsurprisingly, lots of people are suffering diarrhoea and most of the children have already developed skin infections. Access to healthcare in these remote villages is a challenge. It can take hours to reach the nearest health centre and much longer if you need a hospital. The Red Cross, through its door-to-door activities, is trying to register people who are sick, alerting the local health authorities if necessary.
No aid from anywhere has reached these villages and hundreds more people are scattered along the border, hidden in the forest.
Since the beginning of the crisis and as of 31 March, UNHCR has registered 30,007 people crossing the border from Côte d'Ivoire to the county of Grand Gedeh. In the last two weeks, and because the fighting is moving towards western Côte d'Ivoire, there has been a significant increase in the number of people crossing each day.
Refugees: physically and emotionally exhausted
There are serious concerns for both refugee and host populations. Access to clean water, food, latrines, basic shelter and health services are urgently needed.
The refugees are particularly vulnerable as they left their homes with nothing. They are both physically and emotionally exhausted.
"We ran away from our country because we were scared to die, but now I feel that we will die if we stay here," says one refugee who crossed the border with his eight children. "We are calling on the international community to come and help us, otherwise our children will die, one after the other."