Hundreds of desperate refugees seek safety at UN compound in Liberia

Staff from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Monrovia said hundreds of refugees and displaced persons stormed into the agency’s premises on Monday after a mortar shell hit the nearby United States residential compound, killing and wounding scores of people. Two more were reported killed in the area today.UNHCR said its compound in Mamba Point is sheltering more than 800 people – some 600 of them Sierra Leonean refugees who earlier fled their camps on the outskirts of the city and are now increasingly desperate for food and pleading for evacuation. At least 160 Liberians and several nationals of other West African nations are also huddled in the compound.Taking advantage of breaks in the fighting, adults dashed out to replenish meagre supplies of food and water from a makeshift market hastily set up in the neighbourhood. On Tuesday, as soon as several people began preparing rice and vegetables on open fires, shelling resumed and they raced back into the relative safety of the UNHCR building. By this morning, the compound had run out of food, and few people had money left to go out and buy provisions. Moses Okello, UNHCR’s representative for Liberia who was evacuated to Côte d’Ivoire, said the situation was desperate.Despite reports of a rebel-ordered ceasefire, sporadic shooting and shelling continued. Government fighters on the streets have been seen firing their weapons indiscriminately, with no apparent opposition in sight. Inside the compound, hallways and stairways were jammed with men, women and children sleeping on the bare floor, wherever they could find space.Meanwhile, yesterday in Dakar, Senegal, the Foreign Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to discuss ways of expediting the arrival of a vanguard force to Liberia. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a host of top UN officials have repeatedly stressed the need for the quick deployment of such a force. read more