Liberia covers an area of 43,000 square miles in West Africa. Liberia’s land border extends a total length of 986 miles. The country is bound to the southeast by the Atlantic Ocean in which it claims territory extending 200 nautical miles. The country shares its land border with its three bordering nations; Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone. The longest of Liberia’s international borders the Ivory Coast-Liberia border while the shortest is the Sierra Leone-Liberia border. The country lies in a region which has witnessed bloody conflicts and civil wars which has resulted in thousands of refugees crossing the border.
Liberia-Sierra Leone Border
Liberia is bound to the west by Sierra Leone. The international border separating the two West African nations is 190 miles in length making it the shortest of Liberia’s international borders. The tripoint connecting the two countries to Guinea marks the start of the Liberia-Sierra Leone border from where it stretches south until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Like many international borders of African countries, the Liberia-Sierra Leone border was first demarcated by European colonial authorities, and local people had no input in the delineation. The two countries inherited the definition of the border after they gained independence in 1847 for Liberia and 1961 for Sierra Leone. The border is largely porous, and smugglings and other illegal cross-border activities take place on many sections of the border. Nonetheless, the primary border crossing point on the border is the Bo Waterside crossing which features customs and immigration officials from the two countries.
Thousands of refugees from Liberia crossed the border into Sierra Leone as they fled from violence during the First and Second Civil Wars. More than 60,000 refugees had crossed the border into Sierra Leone in 2002. The majority of the refugees settled in the Bo and Kenema districts found along the border. The government of Sierra Leone set up eight camps in border villages such as Manduvulahun where the Liberian refugees would receive humanitarian assistance. After the civil wars ended, a repatriation process was started by the UNHCR which aimed to resettle the refugees back to Liberia. However, many of the refugees avoided the repatriation exercise and preferred to integrate in the Sierra Leone societies where they had settled.
Closing of the Border
The border was shut in the late 20th century during the period when both countries were at war with each other. Liberia had decided to seal its border with Sierra Leone after Charles Taylor, a former warlord and Sierra Leone president invaded Liberia in 1990. The two armies clashed in an international war which left scores of Liberian civilians dead. Tensions eased briefly until the turn of the 21st century when a diplomatic row resurfaced. Liberia would close its border with Sierra Leone again in 2001 after it accused its neighbor of harboring dissidents who, according to Liberian authorities, were responsible for the bloody civil war in the country. Following the closing of the border, Liberia also recalled its ambassador to Sierra Leone and expelled the Sierra Leonean ambassador.
Liberia- Ivory Coast Border
Liberia shares 445 miles of its land border with Ivory Coast which lies east of the country. The border represents Liberia’s longest international border. The course of the Cavalla River defines a significant portion of the border. The border was first demarcated in the 19th century during the Scramble for Africa as European countries established colonies in Africa. Both Ivory Coast and Liberia would retain the colonial delineation of the international border after gaining independence in the 20th century. The border is patrolled by border security agencies whose mandate is to curtail illegal cross-border activities.
Post-Election Violence and Refugees
In late 2010, Ivory Coast was engulfed in a conflict which was triggered by the general elections marred with irregularities. The ensuing violence led thousands of people to flee from the country, choosing to settle in neighboring Liberia as refugees. According to some estimates, as many as 0.2 million refugees crossed the Ivory Coast-Liberia international border by 2011. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that young Liberians were recruited to fight in the conflict, with the recruitments being most prevalent in the regions along the international border. While many of the refugees were repatriated after the peace returned to Ivory Coast, and thousands of them choose to remain in Liberia as refugees. However, these refugees were seen by Liberians as a problem, with the locals linking the refugees to a spike in insecurity incidents.
Border Crossing Point
On the Cavalla River is a border crossing point known as the Duokudi-Pedebo crossing where cross-border movement is regulated. Since there is no bridge, crossings are made via two ferries which are owned and operated by the UNHCR. Locals also use small canoes to cross the river. Unfortunately, the border crossing point has few facilities such as warehouses and only has a few sanitation facilities for the staff stationed at the immigration checkpoint.
Liberia is bound to the north by Guinea, one of its neighboring countries with which it shares its land border. The international border delimiting the two West African countries is 350 miles in length. The border starts at the tripoint connecting the two countries to Sierra Leone from where it extends eastwards until it meets the Liberia-Ivory Coast-Guinea tripoint. Like Liberia’s entire international border, the Guinea-Liberia border was first demarcated by Europeans in the 19th century.
Refugees and Ebola
Guinea received thousands of refugees from Liberia when the country experienced its violent Civil Wars. The refugees settled along the international border where they received humanitarian aid from the UNHCR and the Guinea government. The majority of the refugees returned to Liberia after the war ended but a significant number chose to remain in Guinea. The Guinea-Liberia border was temporarily closed in 2016, after the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia. The closure of the border by Guinea was a measure to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious disease in Guinea. However, the border’s closure affected the many businesses conducted across the border.