Thursday, June 30, 2011

A tale of two children fleeing the Ivory Coast

Once the armed conflict in the Ivory Coast began, people began to flee the country to safety. The armed conflict in Cote d'Ivoire began earlier this year when two political rivals contested an election and took to fighting to gain power. 175,800 people crossed into Liberia alone and that does not include the many who escaped into other neighboring countries. To this day, most of those people stay in refugee camps operated by the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

From the Guardian, writer Liz Ford has this story of two children who had to flee to a camp without their parents.

It was when armed men appeared in town that 13-year-old Israel Gbehe knew it was time to run.

The town of Toulepleu in Guiglo county, Ivory Coast, was under attack. Israel didn't know if the fighters were supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, the country's deposed president, or Alassane Ouattara, his successor. What he did know was that he needed to find his five-year-old sister, Pacifique, and join the crowd of people fleeing the town and heading to the Liberian border.

"I just saw armed men that came to the town. I didn't have time to see my family," says Israel, who at the time was living with relatives in the town while he and his sister attended school. "We walked through the bush back to my parents house, but when we got there I didn't see my parents. We met other people escaping to Liberia so we joined them."

The next day Israel and Pacifique were at a UN refugee transit point in the north-east of Liberia and eventually transferred to Bahn refugee camp in Nimba county.

That was in March. By the end of May, Israel had still not heard from his parents or knew their whereabouts.

Israel and Pacifique are among more than 2,000 children now at Bahn camp, situated 52km from the Ivory Coast border. The camp was built in January in an attempt to ease the pressure on the border towns that were filling up with Ivorians fleeing post-election violence. Bahn is built to accommodate 15,000 people, although by May only around 5,000 had arrived. The majority of people have chosen instead to stay a little closer to home, and in many cases have been offered shelter in the homes of Liberians living in villages dotted along the border (Liberian families are returning the favour for the support they received from Ivorians when they were forced to escape civil war).

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