Violence in eastern Liberia sets thousands on the run and forces MSF to stop assistance

Over the past days clashes in Grand Gedeh district, in eastern Liberia on the border with Ivory Coast, have forced thousands of people to flee and MSF teams to evacuate the area. "Since January our teams have been working in Toe Town and the surrounding villages," explained Kostas Moschochoritis, Operational Coordinator for west Africa in Brussels. "There were tens of thousands of refugees and returnees pouring into the country, fleeing the fighting in neighbouring Ivory Coast. In Toe Town we had been assisting them with medical consultations and water and sanitation in the transit camp and with mobile clinics in the surrounding villages where the majority of them had found temporary refuge." However since the weekend of Feb 28-March 1, the fighting in eastern Liberia at the border with Ivory Coast has caused both the local population and the refugees to flee, dispersing in all directions. Some of the refugees - themselves a mix of people from countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Benin, Ivory Coast - as well as Liberian returnees have found refuge in the surrounding villages while many more have resorted to hiding in the bush. For the moment access to them is impossible due to the insecurity. "Our teams were forced to leave the area because it was too dangerous to stay and we are very worried now about the situation of the people in the region, both local population and the refugees. Thousands of innocent people remain trapped in an extremely violent and volatile situation, cut off from medical care of any kind," continues Kostas Moschoschoritis. For many weeks MSF has been urging the UNHCR to move the transit centre further away from the border and to clearly identify a permanent camp that could offer adequate assistance, security and protection to the refugees. "As long as they are forced to stay in the transit camps close to the border and fighting areas, they are too vulnerable. And recent events have proved this to be the case," Kostas Moschoschoritis concluded.