By Benoit Carpentier in Liberia
In the depths of the jungle and only accessible by a very rough road – that is completely inaccessible by car during the rainy season – is the village of Zualay. It’s one of the 16 villages selected by the government in Nimba County to host refugees from Côte d’Ivoire. The Liberian Red Cross is helping these communities cope with the sudden influx of people by building several household latrines in the village.
These villages have been selected because of their proximity to markets and heath facilities. They are hosting refugees who do not want to be put in the UNHCR camps in the interior of Liberia.
Osine comes from Larplay in Côte d’Ivoire. She arrived in Zualay last week with her daughter. Osine has a beautiful smile that she flashes when asked how old she is.
“I don’t remember, it was a long time ago,” she says laughing. Osine ran from her village about two weeks ago. She says that “fighters came in our village with arms. They were shooting people. They killed people so I ran away with my daughter. We ran into the bush and then walked for three days in the forest. I don’t know who these people were. We call them rebels, but we don’t know who they are.”
Osine and her daughter are now living with a host family. They left with nothing, not even clothes or money. Since last week they have started to do some work in the farms around the village in order to get some cash to buy food.
“The family were we are staying with is very kind. When we don’t have food, they share what they have with us. Without that I don’t know how we would survive.”
Then we meet 20-year-od Patricia with her baby boy Levi on her back. Patricia is from the village of Gorpuplay. She arrived in Liberia at the early days of the crisis back in December.
“We woke up in the middle of the night because we heard some gunshots. I went to check on my parents but I couldn’t find them, they had already gone. So me, my baby, my little sister Kevin, and my two younger brothers, Innocent and Mariss, we decided to run away in the bush. We were scared that they would find us and kill us.”
Patricia, her baby, her brothers and sister walked for five days before they reached the border with Liberia. There they have been registered and brought to the village where they are still staying.
“We stay at the chief’s house. He has been very nice to us. He gives us food and even a little bit of money when we need to buy soap to wash the clothes.” So far these children have not heard from their parents, they don’t know where they are or even whether they are alive or dead.
“When the war is finished, we will go back to Côte d’Ivoire. I want to become a tailor, I like to make clothes. But for now it is too dangerous, and we don’t know how long this is going to last,” adds Patricia.
The Liberian Red Cross will register Patricia and her siblings and pass their details on to the ICRC teams in charge of restoring family links. They hope they will hear news about their parents soon.
Even if the situation in term of influx of population has improved over the last weeks the situation still remains very worrying. With the rainy season starting in a few days, the 52,000 refugees registered in Nimba County and their host communities are at risk. Very soon many of these communities won’t be accessible by road, which means that they will not be able to receive supplies or medical assistance.
Despite all these challenges, there is one positive thing that stands out above all others: the solidarity between these people. Families, villages and entire communities, who were already living in very difficult conditions, have accepted without hesitation their neighbours’ need for help.