Côte d'Ivoire + 1 more

Women encounter additional barriers to information

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(April 15, 2011) Two small children huddle close to their mother, Dgihi Emmar, as she breastfeeds her 8-month old daughter and describes losing track of two older daughters in the chaos of fleeing their Ivorian village in the middle of the night.

“I was sleeping, and [rebels] started firing... I grabbed my children, but people were running in all directions. We ran into the bush, but two of my children were left behind,” says Emmar.

A week of walking later, Emmar staggered into a Liberian village in Grand Gedeh County with eight of her ten children, exhausted, hungry, and anxious to know the whereabouts of her husband and two missing daughters, Monghesea, 20, and Larissa, 12.

Emmar explains that she has no cellphone and no way to track her family. She has no idea what’s happening in Cote d’Ivoire, or of any international humanitarian agencies, like the International Committee for the Red Cross, that might help to reunite her with her family.

The 37-year old woman can only hope that her family will follow the same path that she did - so she will stay in this small village, with a muddy road cutting through the middle, to watch for them. “If you’re running, you come this way,” she said. “I will wait for them.”

Radios, Mobile Phones Inaccessible
Like many refugee women interviewed by Internews, Emmar has little to no access to information, and doesn’t feel empowered to find it. Early results from the Internews assessment on the information needs of Ivorian refugees in eastern Liberia indicate that women refugees have less access to information than men. In a focus group discussion in Janzon town, all ten of the women gathered said they haven’t heard anything about the situation in the Ivory Coast since they left. None of them were able to carry radios to Liberia, but several said they trust radio as an information source. Eight out of ten had Ivory Coast SIM cards with them, but no way to access a phone or cellular coverage.

None of the women in another focus group in Duoplay, Nimba County had their own mobile phone, and none can afford to pay for minutes at a nearby phone-for-rent booth. The women, who speak French or Gio, don’t understand the mostly English radio programming that plays on a neighbor’s radio in the Liberian village.

“That’s his radio,” said one woman. “We can’t tell him what to listen to.”

Emmar says she wants to return home to Cote d’Ivoire “as soon as I know it’s safe,” but said she has no way of getting information that she can trust on the security situation.

Rumors hinder aid efforts
Access to trusted sources is a problem, confirms refugee camp coordinator Alfred Momger. Momger works at the Norwegian Refugee Council operated refugee camp in Bahn, Nimba County. “There are some rumors going around that this place is not good,” said Momger.

Currently, fewer than 3,000 of the nearly 140,000 Ivorian refugees who fled to Liberia after the disputed presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire erupted into violence in February are living in formal camps. The vast majority are scattered in villages, many located deep in the bush or near the border. The fast-approaching rainy season, in which six months of torrential rains are expected to wipe out Liberia’s remote roads, will create problems for humanitarian agencies distributing food. It will also make it more difficult to communicate with refugees face-to-face in villages.

UNHCR and the Liberian government refugee agency have tried to dispel rumors and advertise the benefits of camp life, such as French schools, dependable food supply, and clean water, by paying for a few radio messages in different vernacular languages on community radio stations, and holding village meetings in which they’ve asked refugees from the camp to share stories with other refugees. Inside the camp, information officers are setting up bulletin boards and using megaphones and camp refugee leaders to spread messages.

But for Dgihi Emmar, who’s determined to wait for her missing daughters, it will be much more difficult to access trusted information. Weary from travel, stressed from caring for and feeding eight children by herself, and still traumatized from being attacked by rebels while she was sleeping, she can only shake her head and say nothing when asked, “Who do you trust?”

Internews' Information Assessment in Liberia
Through interviews with refugees, host communities, local media outlets, mobile service providers, humanitarian aid agencies and government officials, Internews is evaluating Ivorian refugees’ abilities to access accurate and timely information about their refugee status, where they can receive news from home, and aid services. Internews is exploring how the situation could potentially be improved through establishing a humanitarian information service for refugees and border communities, in partnership with the humanitarian community, local government,local media, and other communication channels, including mobile and new technologies.

Internews’ assessment in Liberia is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation.