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Charities prepare for refugee surge

Aid agencies are preparing for an influx of a quarter of an million refugees from Ivory Coast to neighbouring Liberia as the security situation deteriorates.

Aid workers for charity Oxfam has warned of shortages of food and a crisis of sanitation as border towns struggle to feed those fleeing the fighting, amid fears that monsoon rains will make roads impassable for relief lorries.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has told relief workers to expect up to 250,000 people to arrive by the end of June, with many walking for up to five days to cross the border.

A widening of the fighting has seen more refugees crossing into Grand Gedeh county in the south in recent days, Olivier Germain, a spokesman for Oxfam, said from Monrovia, the Liberian capital.

So far 80,000 people have fled the fighting, with 25,000 moving into Grand Gedeh the past ten days as fighting moves south. Another 40,000 have fled to camps set up in Nimba county in the north.

"There's a strong belief that a lot of people are still on their way or hiding in the forest over the border and haven't crossed yet. We have contingency planning for a much higher number. It's a very unpredictable situation," Mr Germain said.

"Refugees have been walking for up to five days before reaching Libera and so are in immediate need of very basic services such as shelter, food, water and sanitation."

He said those fleeing violence had been left "very traumatised".

While aid agencies are working in Liberia, the security situation and the collapsed economy within the Ivory Coast has made it impossible for aid agencies to operate within the country.

On Sunday French peacekeeping forces secured the airport Abidjan, the capital. There are 1,200 French troops in the country, with another 300 being sent, as part of a 9,000-strong UN force.

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