Liberian village struggles to cope with influx of refugees

Published: 29 March 2011 12:34 CET

By Faye Callaghan in Liberia

Denis Bakeu used to live in a village in Côte d’Ivoire about 20 kilometres from the Liberian border. “Armed rebels came to our village one day. That night we packed our bags and left,” he says. “It was all such a rush and some of my extended family got separated. I think they are in other camps or communities now. But I’m glad I arrived in Buutuo because one of the first things I saw was the Red Cross,” he adds, the relief still clear on his face.

Buutuo is a village in northern Liberia, usually home to around 1,700 people. As rebels swept through the villages across the border, the Ivorian population in Buutuo swelled to 30,000.

As a result of the sudden influx of refugees, the IFRC has worked with the Liberian Red Cross to set up an emergency water treatment plant. It now provides up to 75,000 litres of clean drinking water a day.

“Without this equipment, without the clean water, this community would have crumbled,” says Denis, who used to volunteer with the Côte d’Ivoire Red Cross and now helps manage the plant.

But water isn’t the only essential the community is lacking. Arthur Gweh has lived in Buutuo for all 76 years of his life. He has welcomed the Ivorians to his village and is looking after four children who arrived with no family.

“We’re happy to look after them,” he says. “But I don’t speak French so I worry for their education. There are some Ivorian teachers who also crossed into our village; they are doing their best, but they need books.”

Arthur says they are also running short of food. “We need agriculture tools and seeds so we can provide food for ourselves and involve the refugees in the community. None of us wants to be constantly asking for food.”

Such sentiments are echoed by 18-year-old Serge, who struggled across the border with his sewing machine. “Back home, this is my job and I brought my machine so I can work while I’m here,” he says. Unfortunately money is tight in Buutuo so there’s not much trade, but he has been able to do some work in exchange for food.

Serge comes across as one of the happier members of the refugee community. “Being able to sew stops me getting bored,” he looks around him and shrugs. “There’s nothing else here for us to do.”

The IFRC has recently revised its emergency appeal to increase its support to the Liberian Red Cross and other neighbouring countries hosting refugees from Côte d’Ivoire. Funds from the appeal will ensure communities receive seeds and that water projects are implemented, whilst allowing additional preparations to be made for another influx of refugees, who are expected to arrive as violence in Côte d’Ivoire continues.


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