Harper, Maryland County – Hundreds of Ivorian refugees at the Little Welebo Refugee Camp in Maryland County are complaining about the lack of medical, water and sanitation facilities — a situation, they say, might create a health crisis.
Report By: Bryan Dioh, LMD Responsible Health reporting Fellow
According to some of the refugees who spoke to LocalVoicesLiberia, the lack of latrines is constraining them to use nearby bushes while children must walk long distances to fetch water for drinking. They are also worried about the poor health services at the local clinic.
Alaces Bedia, a refugee who spoke through an interpreter, told LocalVoicesLiberia that they have been facing several challenges including seeking health care services.
“Since we came to Liberia, we have been suffering here at this camp even though we know this is not our country and being a refugee is very hard, but my brother, the suffering is too much for us,” laments Bedia.
“Can you imagine no latrines, good water and even the clinic you are seeing there does not have good medicine to treat us and more health workers. When we go to that clinic, they will write paper and give it to us to buy medicine but where are we getting the medicine from?”
Bedia said he fled his country with his family because of post-election violence that erupted after this year’s presidential election in that West African nation. He said he is unable to pay for health care for he and his family.
Representatives of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who recently toured the camp to access the situation, said that over 500 new refugees arrived in Liberia in early November. This puts the total number of new refugees at 700, according to UNHCR.
And with reports that the number is growing weekly, humanitarian workers are cautioning about a potential health crisis on the camp if support remains limited. The concerns of these refugees now echo the magnitude of the problem as the threat of COVID-19 also lurks amid concerns that the coronavirus health protocols are poorly followed by the refugees. However, they are not only concern about COVID-19.
Another refugee, Estalla Kunadeh says the inadequate drugs and latrines is creating panic amongst the refugees. She also recalls using the nearby bushes on several occasions as latrine because of the limited or unkept sanitary facilities on the camp.
“We are dying slowly and instead of we being safe we are suffering; you know as refugees this is not our country and we can’t talk much but this is a problem for us,” Estalla said through an interpreter.
“Everyday someone must get sick among us only because some of us were scared and we ran in the bushes and we passed through other places to reach here. But when we get sick, there is no sufficient medicine to help us get well, sometimes no medicine at all to help us and then we don’t have money again.”
Meanwhile, county officials have said that there have been limited number of health workers at the Little Wlebo Refugee Camp since the closure of the camp back in 2018.
Dr. Methodust George, who is the County Health Officer, told reporters that “low budget” is now hampering their attempts to provide adequate health services to the growing population in the camp.
“We have since been offering services to that clinic but there was a closure of the camp long time and many of the refugees left, so when new ones are coming we expect the county authorities to inform us and then we will see reason to ask some of our partners to help support that clinic,” explains Dr. George, adding that community health volunteers have been making some minimum interventions as the CHT seek a more comprehensive solution to the problems.
“We are working on things and we can assure them that shortly they will get proper medical care,” he added.
Like the County Health Officer, Maryland County Superintendent George Prowd attributes the late response to the plight of the current refugees to the closure of the camp back in 2018.
“We were informed by LRRRC that the refugees who earlier on lived on the camp were repatriated to the Ivory Coast, because everything was okay with them,” Superintendent Prowd said.
“So, since we have new refugees coming, it’s now we have to work to ensure their safety because they are out brothers and sisters and they were brought here because of a reason.”
Superintendent Prowd disclosed that his administration is currently working with partners “to make sure the needs of the refugees are met” but it is not clear when the intervention will be made.