Third-country nationals stuck in Liberia and Guinea

Thousands of West Africans who fled Cote d'Ivoire are stuck in Liberia and Guinea, unable to return to their home countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Togo - Refugees International reported.

"An estimated 43,000 people fled Cote d'Ivoire and entered Liberia and Guinea. Thousands more continue to arrive. In addition to 20,000 Ivorian refugees and 45,000 returnees, Liberia has received at least 12,000 nationals of third countries, with the majority from Burkina Faso," RI said on Thursday.

Many third country nationals (TCNs) were in UNHCR transit centres and villages in Grand Gedeh County, Liberia, where the town of Zwedru and nearby border areas host at least 21,000 refugees and thousands of TCNs, RI said.

"Grand Gedeh has the greatest movement of militia back and forth. The rebels that forced these people to flee are often seen in Liberia. These are the same rebels, according to RI's interviews with refugees and West African nationals, who have been slitting people's throats, burning people alive in their homes, and using young girls as sex slaves and servants," RI said.

Most of the third-country nationals lived or worked in Cote d'Ivoire for many years. Some of the younger ones were born there but kept their original nationality or had dual citizenship. "When they fled, most of them lost everything," RI said. Some paid large sums of money to save the lives of their families from rebels, it added.

"Donors must immediately respond with funding to move these vulnerable people to their home countries. In two months, the rainy season will make roads impassable and these people will then be stuck for many months," RI said. "The rainy season will make the health situation even more tenuous. Already, meningitis has killed several people, and there is risk of a yellow fever outbreak in addition to widespread malaria and growing malnutrition."

RI recommended that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) move staff and resources to Liberia to start the transit of third-country nationals. UNHCR should be mandated and funded to move them if IOM cannot do it immediately and donors should increase funding to UN agencies and NGOs that are providing assistance to the TNCs, refugees and returnees, RI said.