Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Map of Ivorian Refugee Locations in Nimba County

Although I have never had any interest in making this blog political, I certainly wouldn't wish to seem like I am either oblivious or uncaring of some of the more important challenges facing little Liberia--in general and especially this week.

Today, as the Charles Taylor trial draws to a denouement in the Hague (a topic I have only ever mentioned to underscore the aloof absurdity of Miss Campbell), there is another increasingly dire topic to cover which I have otherwise avoided: the rising tensions in next-door Cote D'Ivoire, which has for several months been spilling into Liberia, in many senses.

I don't hesitate to tweet or retweet relevant articles from other sources, but I just don't think I have the expertise or time to cover this topic any better than professional journalists, which just today include articles in the Atlantic, and the Guardian, for example. As for pictures, there is really nothing more arresting than the brilliantly-talented Glenna Gordon's series of photographs on behalf of UNHCR. The below is taken by Glenna for UNHCR, from a series post on her site.

©Glenna Gordon for UNHCR. All Rights Reserved.

I am not on the ground, either in the border region or in Abidjan, so it makes no sense for me to attempt to contribute. I am relying on the same information as everyone else, which is basically a few intrepid reporters and photojournalists, and the front-line aid work of UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council, whose tremendous work I have seen first-hand, and the Liberian government agency, the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, who are working cooperatively to handle the flow of people over the border, which the UN reported this week topped 75,000-- of which perhaps 30,000 has come in the last two weeks. An eventual figure of 450,000 refugees, of which perhaps 200,000 persons externally displaced to Liberia by the fighting has been repeatedly printed. The Red Cross is still working inside Cote D'Ivoire.

So, this is plainly no space for desktop blogging. However, I have done what I can in producing the graphic below, which I think is basically a dress-rehearsal grade draft of a workable (if static) map of the situation. It focuses on Nimba County, although the Ivorian border also touches Grand Gedeh, where the UN also reports inflow of refugees, especially around Toe Town on the Zwedru Highway. There is a very close link between Maryland County and adjacent Cote D'Ivoire.

However, the more northerly reaches of the boundary are important in several aspects: chief being that the pro-Ouattara forces are generally in the north. Logistically, it is no coincidence that the main inflows are at villages and crossings where the Ivorian highways reach nearest to the Liberian frontier, as can be seen in the map (roads in yellow).

Secondly, there is much less reliable information about the flow of either arms or mercenaries from Liberia into the tense conflict zone, but I don't think many would argue that this is not happening. Its likely no coincidence that the town of Toulepleu, shown on the map, the third and largest settlement taken by pro-Ouattara forces as of this post is within an extension of Ivorian territory which reaches furthest into Liberia, and the other two are also along the frontier. There are reports that both sides have Liberian soldiers. The forces are reportedly heading east and south, meeting fleeing civilians face-to-face.

Cartographically, I have included whatever towns have been included in reports out of the region as having received refugees. Some 40-50km to the west, in central Nimba, the UNHCR has been setting up a more substantial camp at Bahn, and moving people out of the overwhelmed frontier towns such as Luguato and Duoplay. There may be other towns with handfuls of refugees, and I have not come across the reports. As another aside, it is also amazing to consider these same towns were the sites of earlier refugee camps for earlier stages of the Ivorian civil war and, in previous decades, both Liberians fleeing the fighting, and those instigating it.

As I said, I consider this a draft, and I would like nothing more if this could be useful to anyone in either aiding these operations or reporting on them. I'd only ask for named creative credit(both for Moved 2 Monrovia and myself), as one would receive under something like a creative commons license.

To this end, I would more than welcome input from anyone with fresh information on facts, figures, statistics, dates, or locations. Please either send me a message on twitter, make a comment to this post, or if wanting more privacy, email me (Please see About M2M page for contact information). Thanks in advance for anyone contributing, and also for the tireless work of helping these unfortunate people caught up in larger conflict. And thanks to those bringing this story to the world and keeping it on the front pages.

Please note that, as with quite the majority of Liberian place names, spelling is loose and varies: Duoplay (which yields web results talking about stereos) is often Duorplay, and Luguato is also Lugatoe, for just two examples. Even on the Ivorian side, Toulepleu becomes Toueleupleu and Binhouye is also Bin-Houye, etc. I am not wedded to any particular transliteration myself, but it can be difficult to do web searching when a towns name has a variety of spellings.

I hope that I am, in some tiny way, contributing to the improved welfare of the refugees and those Liberians who are effected as well. More than anything, I am praying that instability does not increase within Cote D'Ivoire--or spread to Liberia.

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