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Liberians, once refugees themselves, aid those fleeing Ivory Coast

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Here in Gblarly, about 15 miles from the Ivorian border, aid workers from the United Nations, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Liberian government registered refugees and gave them soap, blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans for water, and other supplies on Jan. 12.

There was no food to hand out that day, even though the refugees complained of hunger. Several, including a number of pregnant women, said that they had had little to eat since they began the journey from Ivory Coast. Some have already been here for more than a month.

Food distribution is just beginning, said Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

As of Jan. 12, only one supply of high-energy biscuits had been provided for the refugees. But more food was on the way: A nearby town got a batch of food on Jan. 13, and Gblarly received its first delivery the following day. The supplies include bulgur wheat, beans, vegetable oil, and a blend of cornmeal and soy flour, a mixture that is meant to help stave off diarrhea.

Even though there was no food to be had on Jan. 12, several hundred refugees showed up to get their share of the other provisions. Children played in the shade of the two five-ton UN trucks that had come laden with supplies, while their parents stood patiently in a long line that stretched across a dry, scrubby field.

Nearly two-thirds of the refugees are children, while 55 percent are female, according to official numbers. The UN does not track the percentage of the women refugees who are pregnant or breast-feeding, but a quick glance at the crowd that day suggested the proportion was high.

Zouhou René Megui, a soft-spoken man who works as a nurse’s aide back home in Ivory Coast, rested in the shade of a tree after collecting his rations. He arrived in Liberia with his wife and five children about a month ago. His family has already grown since: his wife gave birth to their sixth child, a boy, on Jan. 6.

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