March 13th, Monrovia. The international medical aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is extremely concerned about the fate of thousands of people in Grand Gedeh district, eastern Liberia, who have been trapped in the area due to heightening insecurity for more than one week. Recent fighting has forced MSF and other aid organisations to evacuate the area and has caused thousands of people to flee.
MSF has been working in Grand Gedeh district, providing assistance to refugees and returnees who fled the conflict in neighbouring Ivory Coast. The refugee population in the district is estimated to be some 45,000 people - including Liberian returnees, Ivorian refugees and third-country nationals. Thousands of them are stranded in refugee transit camps, only a few kilometres away from the fighting in Ivory Coast and with constant militia movements throughout the region. Today, part of this area is cut off from all assistance.
"In the transit camp of Toe Town MSF teams provided medical care and clean water to some 1,300 people," explains Dr. Hani Khalifa, medical coordinator for MSF in Liberia. "During the attack on Toe Town early March, refugees fled the camp and the host communities around Toe Town in all directions. Since then we have not been able to get any news about what has happened to them. Unofficial reports indicate that most of them have fled into the bush and that many families have been separated."
Due to the insecurity it is also impossible to provide assistance to the local population who are equally trapped in this extremely dangerous region. As has been tragically demonstrated by the killing of three aid workers during the attack on Toe Town, MSF teams have not been able yet to return to assess the situation and provide assistance. After a security assessment, MSF has decided to continue its activities in the Zwedru transit camp, 200 kilometres south of Toe Town, where its teams provide health care, nutritional support, water and sanitation to 5,000 refugees, mostly from Burkina Faso, Mali and Benin. "Zwedru is supposed to be only a transit camp, but hundreds of people have been there since December," says Pierre Mendiharat, Head of Mission for MSF in Liberia.
MSF is urgently calling on the Liberian authorities and UNHCR to open a camp further inland, in a safe area where adequate assistance, security and protection would be possible. The refugees and third-country nationals in Toe Town and Zwedru should be moved there as soon as possible. Furthermore, MSF is calling on the UNHCR and the relevant authorities to facilitate the repatriation of third-country nationals to their country of origin.