‘I know what it is like to be a refugee’
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Published on 19 July 2011

Once a refugee himself, Matthew Larkpa (centre) offered his home to sisters Mireille (left) and Charlotte (right), who fled to Liberia from Cote d'Ivoire when their village came under attack. Copyright WFP/ Judith Melby.

Nimba County in Liberia has received some 43,000 refugees from Côte d’Ivoire. Some are in camps for displaced persons but the vast majority are staying with host families in villages close to the border where WFP is helping the host families with food assistance.
 

The population of the small Liberian village of Glarlay close to the border with Côte d’Ivoire has almost doubled in size since the end of last year.
Sisters Charlotte, 26 and Mireille, 20 arrived in December last year with just the clothes they were wearing and eight children between them.

‘We were woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of gunfire,’ recalls Mireille. ‘We were so frightened; we just grabbed the children and ran.’

Glarlay was the first village they arrived in from their home in Côte d’Ivoire and one of the first people they saw was Mathew Larkpa, 26 who immediately offered them shelter in his house.

Mathew’s home is small with already 10 family members living there, but he did not hesitate to take the sisters in.

‘I called them over, I felt sorry for them. I was a refugee myself for six years in Côte d’Ivoire so I know what it is like to be a refugee. They are welcome here and they are helping me on my farm.’

This is often heard in the border villages; Liberian families are reciprocating the support they received from Ivorians when they fled the civil war in their country.

The village chief of Glarlay, Maxwell Worba, even moved out of his house to allow refugees to stay there. Maxwell’s wife, Comfort says: ‘They welcomed us as refugees when we fled our country and we lived in peace with them. That is why we gave them our home.’

Mongrous Kanechais, 25 is staying at their home with his wife and four children and his brother and his family. He plans to stay until he feels it is safe to return home even though the Liberian government and the UN refugee agency would like all the refugees to move further inland.

‘I prefer to stay near the border; in the camp you don’t get any news. Here I can find out what is happening from the radio but I am going to wait until I hear from someone I know that things are OK before I go home.’

Roads in this part of Liberia are very poor and the rainy season is rendering them practically impassable. But WFP has managed to bring food assistance to the host families in Glarlay.

Peter Kolder, 46 emptied his small shop to make room for the refugees. ‘There were so many of them and they have no sleeping places. I am a Christian and would be ashamed if I did nothing for our guests. I was a refugee myself in their country for six years,’ he says.

Nadelle Lané, 35 and her six children are among the lucky ones to benefit from Peter’s generosity,

‘I am so grateful. I have been working in Peter’s fields and we will have a good harvest so we will be strong when the time comes when we can go home.’

WFP Offices
About the author

Judith Melby

West Africa Regional Public Information Officer

Judith is a journalist with about 20 years of experience. She has worked with WFP in Dakar, Addis Abeba, Khartoum, Abidjan and Kinshasa.