Correspondent Jess Engebretson reports from Liberia, where thousands of people from Ivory Coast have sought refuge from political violence.
Ivory Coast remains in political crisis more than a month after the presidential election. The challenger Alassane Ouattara is widely recognized as the winner, but the incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede power. The political turmoil and ensuing violence has prompted more than 22,000 Ivorians to flee the country. Most have sought refuge in neighboring Liberia, which has only recently emerged from a civil war of its own.
Marie Dellah is one of those who fled. She began getting panicked calls from her family in the country's largest city, Abidjan. They told her that supporters of both incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and his opponent Alassane Ouattara were beating and murdering civilians. Dellah's family warned her that the violence might spread to villages like hers. Soon, it did.
She said supporters of both Gbagbo and Ouattara started harassing people in the village. ï¿½They beat people in their homes,ï¿½ she said. ï¿½We got scared, because we didn't know what would happen next.ï¿½
So Dellah fled. She set off on foot with her extended family ï¿½ six children and ten adults, mostly women. They walked for two days through the forest before reaching a small Liberian village of about thirty mud brick huts. A farmer there named Saturday Wayee took them all in, and when more Ivorians straggled out of the forest over the next few weeks, Wayee took them in as well. He gave them food, water, and a place to sleep.
ï¿½It started on the fifth of December,ï¿½ Wayee said. ï¿½That's when I started receiving strangers, about sixteen different groups.ï¿½
By the end of the month, Wayee was sheltering 35 people on the dirt floor of his hut. He says it's hard to find food for everyone. But during Liberia's civil war, many in this area fled to Ivory Coast. Wayee says there's a sense along the border that when violence comes, you help those in need, and they'll do the same for you.
ï¿½We are suffering with them,ï¿½ said Wayee ï¿½because we are all human beings.ï¿½ He said whatever they have, they share.
Wayee's 35 house guests are just a few of the more than 20,000 Ivorian refugees now taking shelter with Liberians. The United Nations' refugee agency has provided some supplies: sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, kerosene, and soap. Aid groups have also set up shop to check on the health of the refugee children.
Allen Kromah of Liberia's Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, said that villages like Logatuo are struggling to cope with so many new mouths to feed, so the Liberian government has decided to begin building an official refugee camp here ï¿½ reversing an earlier decision.
ï¿½Initially we did not want to be seen as opening a camp,ï¿½ Kromah said, because it could potentially antagonize the Ivorian government. It's also expensive, he said, so you want to make sure that people will need an established camp for more than a few days. ï¿½We are convinced that it's not one of those things where someone can make a quick decision to go back home,ï¿½ he said.
Marie Dellah, the Ivorian refugee, said going back to Ivory Coast now would be too risky. As she nursed her youngest child, she said she's grateful for Wayee's kindness, whom she calls her ï¿½stranger father.ï¿½ But she still yearns to go home.
ï¿½Nowhere is better than home,ï¿½ she said. She added that she can only pray that the crisis and the suffering will end soon.
Saturday Wayee is also praying for an end to the conflict. Until then, he said, he'll share meals with his 35 guests ï¿½ for as long as his stores last.