Liberia testimonies - Man, 40, New Yourpea transit camp

Man, 40, New Yourpea transit camp, Nimba County, Liberia ?(Fled from Toulepleu, western Ivory Coast)

This year, the war made us flee. As always, it started with rumours. We thought, like in 2002, it will all be over in a few weeks. But in early March fighters entered the town and it was the civilians who paid the price. People were burned alive in their houses, especially those like children and the elderly who could not flee fast enough.

The fighters were targeting the people they felt had supported the other side—shooting at them as they fled. I fled in one direction with my older son. My wife and my other children went the other way. I haven’t seen them since.

We stayed in the bush for one month, together with about 70 people in a hiding place that we had cleared out. There was barely any food and water. We had no way of treating children if they were sick. To find food, women would go out into the bush to try to find manioc still left in the fields.

But armed men came after us as we fled and we were obliged to cross over into Liberia. It wasn’t possible to travel on the roads. There were checkpoints, especially at the border, where they ask you for money. Even if you gave them money, sometimes they still shot the people. So, we travelled at night – exposed to many dangers, snakes, scorpions, fighters.

We arrived in Liberia in early April. We were a long line of people marching to come out of the bush together. But my son drowned as we crossed the river to Liberia. When we arrived in Liberia, the first thing I had to do was bury him. The people here welcomed me and consoled me, saying they understood because they had been refugees themselves. God gave my son to me and God took him away, but still I lost my oldest, grown son.

I decided to go to the refugee camp away from the border because of security. I prefer to be at a distance from the border because it is too risky. They say there are Liberian combatants that cross the border, back and forth.  

We need safety and health care. Also, food will not last forever here if everyone is sharing the little there is. In secret, many people cross the border to look for food—reserves of rice or manioc still left in the fields in Ivory Coast — and this is how they survive.

I will not return to Cote D’Ivoire before there is disarmament and stability. This is not the Cote D’Ivoire that I know from before. The news will come at some point “come back to Cote D’Ivoire, it’s stable.” They will say this but why should I return? As long as there are fighters with machetes in their hands, it will never be easy.

 

Man seeking refuge in Nimba County

© Gaël Turine / VU

We stayed for two months in the bush, moving from place to place whenever we heard fighters moving. We were attacked many times. In one attack, several children were shot. They killed my mother and father and burned their bodies right in front of my wife. Then they took her away with them.

In the bush, there was no medicine, so we had to treat the children with traditional medicine for their gunshot wounds. Only weeks later did we make it Liberia, where MSF took them to the hospital.

My wife was gone for almost two months and we found each other again here in Liberia. While she was kidnapped, the fighters raped her. She is still very anxious and disturbed and doesn’t eat well. She says her heart is pounding. At night she jumps up, remembering what happened to her, or how my parents were burned in front of her.

My boss asked me if I would come back to Toulepleu, but I said no. It is not safe. They have burned the houses and you cannot go out to your fields. It is too dangerous to return.