International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien today saw for himself how the speed and scale of British aid is supporting the growing number of refugees from the Ivory Coast who have fled the fear of violence in their homeland.
Stephen O’Brien arrived at the Bahn camp in Liberia, along the border with Ivory Coast, where British aid is providing food, shelter and water for 2,800 men, women and children living there.
Video: Stephen O’Brien visit to refugee camp in Liberia
He warned of an “immediate crisis” and called on all the international community to support people affected by the violence.
He met families who had fled for their lives, trekking more than 50km to escape the brutal violence caused by the political tension which has surfaced since the country’s presidential elections in November 2010.
As it appeared Laurent Gbagbo’s forces were negotiating surrender, international observers fear that the number of refugees is likely to rise rather than ease.
Up to one million Ivoirians have already left their homes since Gbagbo’s troops began fighting with forces loyal to the president Alassane Ouattara and they are unlikely to return until genuine peace is secured.
The UN has estimated that 125,000 people have crossed the border into Liberia, leaving their homes, food sources and possessions behind in search of safety. Most are now sheltering in 91 border villages generously hosted by the Liberians, who themselves also now need immediate support.
In the Bahn refugee camp, Mr O’Brien saw first hand British support is providing shelter, food, clean water and urgent medical care for families.
Speaking from the camp, International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said:
“Britain has not forgotten the people of Liberia and Ivory Coast and the horrific conditions many people are living in.
“The violence in Ivory Coast has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes for safety.
“As is appears the defeated Laurent Gbagbo and his forces are negotiation surrender, there are fears that a humanitarian crisis could escalate as the refugees are unlikely to return home until a genuine peace is secured.
“At Bahn, the largest refugee camp on the border, I saw with my own eyes how British aid is helping to provide food, water, education and medicine to thousands in desperate need - people like Gomun Faustin, who took several weeks to walk 50 kilometres to the border with his wife and four children, including a babe in arms. to find a place of safety.
“This is an immediate crisis and I urge all countries to join in action by committing their financial share.”
In Liberia Britain’s support is helping:
- Provide 15,000 refugees with food, shelter and basic services in camps and transit centres
- Assist a further 5,000 people living in border villages who have been overwhelmed by the refugee influx with food, water and sanitation
- Protect 18,000 children and women from abuse, violence and exploitation
In Ivory Coast, Britain is planning to provide humanitarian aid to help:
- Provide 25,000 displaced men, women and children with food for six months
- Provide tents for 15,000 people
- Treat 10,000 children and adults for malnutrition
- 3,000 West African nationals return to their home country