Fleeing from Ivory Coast to Liberia: 4 refugees' testimonies

    “They killed my mother and father and burned their bodies right in front of my wife…”
    Man from western Ivory Coast, seeking refuge in Nimba County, Liberia.
    (May 2011)

    When they attacked Toulepleu, we all ran away together to a camp near my mother’s house. We were not there long when fighters came and started to shoot at us. We ran and hid again. We stayed for two months in the bush, moving from place to place whenever we heard fighters moving. We were attacked many times.

    In one attack, several children were shot. They killed my mother and father and burned their bodies right in front of my wife. Then they took her away with them.

    In the bush, there was no medicine, so we had to treat the children with traditional medicine for their gunshot wounds. Only weeks later did we make it Liberia, where MSF took them to the hospital.

    My wife was gone for almost two months and we found each other again here in Liberia. While she was kidnapped, the fighters raped her. She is still very anxious and disturbed and doesn’t eat well. She says her heart is pounding. At night she jumps up, remembering what happened to her, or how my parents were burned in front of her.

    My boss asked me if I would come back to Toulepleu, but I said no. It is not safe. They have burned the houses and you cannot go out to your fields. It is too dangerous to return.

    “People were burned alive in their houses…”
    Man, 40, from Western Ivory Coast, seeking refuge in New Yourpea transit camp, Nimba County, Liberia.
    (May 2011)

    This year, the war made us flee. As always, it started with rumours. We thought, like in 2002, it will all be over in a few weeks. But in early March fighters entered the town and it was the civilians who paid the price. People were burned alive in their houses, especially those like children and the elderly who could not flee fast enough.

    The fighters were targeting the people they felt had supported the other side—shooting at them as they fled. I fled in one direction with my older son. My wife and my other children went the other way. I haven’t seen them since.

    We stayed in the bush for one month, together with about 70 people in a hiding place that we had cleared out. There was barely any food and water. We had no way of treating children if they were sick. To find food, women would go out into the bush to try to find manioc still left in the fields.

    But armed men came after us as we fled and we were obliged to cross over into Liberia. It wasn’t possible to travel on the roads. There were checkpoints, especially at the border, where they ask you for money. Even if you gave them money, sometimes they still shot the people. So, we travelled at night – exposed to many dangers, snakes, scorpions, fighters.

    We arrived in Liberia in early April. We were a long line of people marching to come out of the bush together. But my son drowned as we crossed the river to Liberia. When we arrived in Liberia, the first thing I had to do was bury him. The people here welcomed me and consoled me, saying they understood because they had been refugees themselves. God gave my son to me and God took him away, but still I lost my oldest, grown son.

    I decided to go to the refugee camp away from the border because of security. I prefer to be at a distance from the border because it is too risky. They say there are armed people that cross the border, back and forth.  

    We need safety and health care. Also, food will not last forever here if everyone is sharing the little there is. In secret, many people cross the border to look for food—reserves of rice or manioc still left in the fields in Ivory Coast — and this is how they survive.

    I will not return to Ivory Coast before there is disarmament and stability. The news will come at some point “come back Ivory Coast, it’s stable.” They will say this but why should I return? As long as there are fighters with machetes in their hands, it will never be easy.

    “Everything I had was burned, what should I do over there?”
    Older man, from western Ivory Coast. In Bahn refugee camp, Nimba County, Liberia.
    (May 2011)

    In February I started to hear shelling and people shouting from the direction of Danané. There was nothing we could do except flee, in all directions. I ran with part of my family to our camp in the bush so we could still be near the village.

    Nothing was normal. It was so hard. We ate bananas and any other things we could find. We didn’t know what to do for the children. When night came, the older children would guard them. The adults could never really sleep.  Even now, many people are still out there hiding in the bush.

    Then more armed men came and burnt the houses in our village. We could see the smoke rising. We had to find a way to cross into Liberia. Some of us swam over with the help of fishermen.

    People took our names and put them on a list, promising us food. We received nothing. Once, there was a food distribution in the neighboring village, so I went to ask for help, but we didn’t receive any food. People lent us tools so we could work in the fields, but with no food, we barely had energy to work.

    My son and daughter were in another village. They both had to flee too. They arrived with nothing as they were robbed by soldiers. They took a long way here as they could not travel through Toulepleu because of a checkpoint where armed men ask you who you voted for. No matter what you say, they check your identity card and decide who you voted for based on where it says you came from. Some people have disappeared at this checkpoint and never re-appeared. I am still missing members of my family.

    I came here to Bahn [refugee camp] because there are services here, like health care, that are not in the villages near the border. It all depends on where you feel most at ease.  Some people want to stay back in the border villages to watch fields they just planted in Liberia. Some also cross over and back into Ivory Coast to see their houses, to see if they can recover any of their belongings, to see if its safe.  

    Since the shooting stopped, peoples’ families there are calling them, saying there’s a president in place and they need to come to their house. I cannot understand what is happening in Ivory Coast. Some go back, but not me. Everything I had was burned, what should I do over there?

    “Armed men came and started shooting at all of us…”
    Old woman from western Ivory Coast, seeking refuge in Teahplay, Nimba County, Liberia.
    (May 2011)

    Rumours were saying that people would come and kill all the people who voted for one side or the other. But the authorities told us that these things would not happen in our village, that we should stay. Then one night in December armed men came and started shooting at all of us. Everyone scattered in every direction. There was no time to take anything, we had absolutely nothing.

    Coming here from Ivory Coast was not easy. We passed so many checkpoints. The people would stop us and ask who we are, where we come from, where we were going. If I tell you all the things that happened to us at all these checkpoints, I will break down in tears.

    I could offer my friend here nothing, but she gave me food to eat and a place to stay. Soon the food started to run out, so the children go to the bush to search for food there, like yams. But the more people come to live here, the less we find to eat. Since we are here no one has gone back to our village - it is not safe there, they will kill you if you go out to your fields. I see no way to ever return