26 September 2012

Liberia: Hardship Hits Liberia/Ivory Coast Border

Photo: Glenna Gordon/UNHCR
An Ivorian refugee gets a lift on a motorbike taxi to Zwedru in southeastern Liberia.

B'Ahai Jozon — One month after rebel gunfire forced hundreds of people in this border village to flee their homes, residents are now returning home but not to the life they knew.

An investigation by the Independent and Authoritative Heritage Newspaper has uncovered that hardship has hit the area since the August 14 cross-border war erupted in the Ivory Coast that later led to the subsequent closure of both countries' borders. "The soldiers told us to leave," town elder Joseph Tahyor told the Heritage. "In case of stray bullets, you never know what might happen."

Grace Davis, 30, returned to her two-room, thatched-roof house with her four children just last week. She lives within 100 feet of a flimsy wooden gate that officially divides the two countries. Her neighbors across the road are a dozen men dressed in camouflage who carry AK47s -- members of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Next door, two men in civilian clothes are hired to watch the border gate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure nobody leaves or enters.

This is one of only four border crossings in Grand Gedeh patrolled by national security agencies. In the last two weeks, the army has been encouraging residents who fled for Toe Town last month to return home. Mrs. Davis, who has lived in B'Ahai Jozon for the past seven years, told the Heritage that life has become increasingly difficult for ordinary Liberians and Ivoirians on both sides of the border since it closed.

"As I speak to you, we are very hungry due to the war. Some of us make our farms near the border, but because of the war, there is no way to harvest. Our rice, cassava, plantains and others are being left alone spoiling. We are afraid to go to the farms because you never know who is around or what may happen in the next minute. The place is not still yet safe completely," Mrs. Davis said.

"It's very fearful to go to the bush, because everyone is of the fear that gunmen are still there. So, no one dare taking the risk to go to the bush now. We don't know the main hiding place of the rebels. Because of this, things are very tough on us in term of food business," she said.

"My husband walks an hour plus to Toe Town everyday to do small contract for us to get something to eat. Sometimes, he doesn't come back the same day and my four children and I will have to sleep hungry that day."

Like Grace, Elder Tahyor, 67, also decried the many difficulties in living in the border town following the cross-border attack.

Elder Tahyor, 67, who has lived in B'Ahai Jozon since birth, pointed out that the town had never experienced such a difficult condition like the one it is going through currently.

"Since the closure of the border, we have not had been able to get basic commodities we used to get from Ivory Coast. All what we need on the market we cannot get it -- cassava, plantain, bananas. It is very serious," Mr. Tahyor said.

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