As Ivoirian refugees teem over the border into Liberia for political violence in their home country, it appears all too strange that the once infamous Buutuo border would be deserted on the Liberian side by joint security.
In the wake of the influx of Ivoirian refugees into Liberia in fear of political violence, the border post near the crossing point in Buutuo appears to have been deserted by the officers of the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and other members of the joint security.
Touring the border on Monday, November 2, the Daily Observer could not see any security officer on the guard post near the crossing point, which connects Buutuo with one of the provincial towns in La Cote d’Ivoire, known as “Binhouye”.
The entire border post was deserted and the offices were all opened, with the perimeters all overgrown with grass as though the guard post were abandoned and no longer active. Buutuo border post is one of the strategic entry/exit points in Nimba, connecting Liberia to La Cote d’Ivoire in the Eastern part of the County.
The border point used to be one of the main sources of revenue collection in the 1980s and still remains an entry point for commodities from Cote d’Ivoire. A key feature of that border crossing is that the Ivoirians constructed a ferry that could cross a 10-tire truck.
Besides being a crossing point where some revenues could be collected, Buutuo border is infamously recorded in Liberian history as the entry point through which armed insurgents loyal to the National Patriotic Front (NPFL) of Liberia, in December 1989, invaded the country and fired the first shots that ignited the 14-year civil war.
During the time of the Daily Observer‘s visit, no officer was spotted at the checkpoint. Although the main gate was closed, there was a bypass used by motorcycles and pedestrians to get to the crosspoint, an indication of vulnerability of the major bordering point. It is not clear what got the officers to abandon the guard post at the border. A man who was fetching water from a handpump near the checkpoint told the Daily Observer that the officers have relocated to a building at the entry of the town away from the borderline.
However, when our reporter returned from the border to the town, he saw no officers in the location shown and no sign of any security presence could be seen until the reporter departed Buutuo. The compound of the statutory superintendent is now overtaken by grass indicating the inactiveness of this major local office.
This compound also hosts the presidential palace built by President William R. Tolbert in the 1970s and renovated by former Senator Adolphus Dolo in 2010. The Statutory Superintendent was not present at the time of this reporter’s visit. Henry Daybah, the caretaker of the office, said he could not speak to the press on any issue because he was not clothed with the authority to do so. However, the stretch of road connecting Bahn and Buutuo is in a very deplorable condition.
In a related development, local authorities and citizens of the Kparblee Administrative District are complaining of a shortage of safe drinking water amid the influx of Ivorians refugees.
According to some local chiefs, most of the hand pumps constructed by NGOs are down and as the result, they are compelled to fetch water from the nearby creek or river to meet up with their water demands.
“We embraced the coming of the brothers and sisters from the Ivory Coast, but we are afraid before everything collapsed. We have nine hand pumps in this town, but only one is functioning while the rest are down. Worst of all, the only pump here sometimes runs out of water; making us to get drinking water from the bushes,” said Henry Z. Kwity, the Town Chief of Behwalay.
Behwalay is situated on the bank of the Cestos River, which demarcates Cote d’Ivoire from Liberia. It is one of the towns that is getting crowded with refugees fleeing election violence in that neighboring country. In Kparblee Town, dozens of local residents and refugees were jammed up at the only functioning handpump in the town to get drinking water.
Meanwhile, the looming refugee crisis is likely to increase tension in the host community, in terms of shelter, food, and medicine for the local clinics. Some of the host communities are considering opening the public buildings to accommodate some of the refugees, but the busy necessity to enhance the relief work remains a challenge.
It is not yet known mechanisms the government or the UN Refugee body has set up to cater to these frightened refugees as soon as possible to avoid pressure on the host communities.