Mpls. group on the ground in Liberia, where refugees seek safetyby Tom Crann, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — As the violence in Ivory Coast intensifies, refugee groups are struggling to provide assistance to thousands of people who have fled to the Liberian border.
About 70,000 refugees are now living in communities along the Liberia-Ivory Coast border, said Carrie Hasselback, the country director for the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee.
Many refugees are sleeping in public buildings, schools, and other public places, relying on the support of border communities, she said.
Tens of thousands have fled Ivory Coast since the country's presidential election in November. President Laurent Gbagbo lost that election, according to the United Nations and the African Union, but has refused to step down.
In recent weeks, Gbagbo's security forces have traveled to neighborhoods loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the man widely acknowledged to have won the election, and have fired machine guns, rifles or grenade launchers, the New York Times reported.
At least six women were shot dead at an anti-Gbagbo protest on Thursday, witnesses told the Times.
The latest round of violence has raised concerns about a possible civil war, and has driven thousands more people to cross the border into Liberia last week.
Hasselback said refugees need to be relocated to safer areas away from border communities.
"The communities have been really generous, but now with the recent influx, tensions are building, resources are becoming depleted, and food stocks are gone, water is hard to come by, so the tensions are kind of growing," Hasselback said, reached via phone in Monrovia, Liberia.
About 500 refugees recently moved into a newly-built camp, she said, and organizations are working to build more camps to provide safe water and shelter.
The American Refugee Committee is also exploring ways to help refugees cope with displacement, including counseling and other services.
Hasselback said the group hopes to provide "spaces where children can be free to be children, where they can play, and they can express themselves and have some sense of normalcy in their lives."
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