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UN: Nearly Half-Million People Displaced in Ivory Coast


Residents of the Abobo district carry their belongings as they flee the neighborhood which has become a hub for street violence in the nation's ongoing political standoff, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, February 28, 2011

Residents of the Abobo district carry their belongings as they flee the neighborhood which has become a hub for street violence in the nation's ongoing political standoff, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, February 28, 2011

The United Nations refugee agency reports nearly one-half million people in Ivory Coast have fled their homes because of escalating violence. The UNHCR says little attention is being paid to the tragedy unfolding in this West African country because of the focus on events in North Africa.

The U.N. refugee agency says it is very concerned by the limited response it has had so far to the crisis in Ivory Coast. It says some 370,000 people now are displaced within the country and nearly 80,000 others have fled to neighboring Liberia seeking asylum.

The UNHCR reports it has had an extremely poor response to its latest appeal for $46 million, despite the growing number of homeless people and the growing needs.

Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says the UNHCR only has received $5 million. She says the agency is considering launching another and bigger appeal. She urges international donors to be more responsive to the humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast.

"We are seeing a further degrading of the security environment in Abidjan," she said. "New clashes in the Abobo district on March 8 and the Cocody district on March 7 have resulted in reports of 30 people wounded and three deaths. Armed checkpoints are continuing to make travel around the city dangerous, affecting the entire population."

Fleming says the UNHCR has identified some 20 sites around Abidjan where large numbers of internally displaced people are concentrated. She says aid workers are updating the numbers of displaced people in some locations and are still assessing their needs. While this process is under way, she notes it is already clear people are in urgent need of food and other relief items, including medicine.

"Outside Abidjan, the violence in the west appears to be spreading to central and southeastern parts of the country," she said. "People forced to flee are reporting attempts to stop them from moving, and they are also reporting physical abuse, including rape cases. In Liberia this week, for example, our staff spoke to a 21-year-old Ivorian refugee woman who fled with her two-year-old son after rebels beat her for resisting rape."

Fleming says more and more refugees fleeing into Liberia are recounting gunfire along the way, sometimes forcing them to hide or sleep in the bush.

Fears are growing of a return to civil war, as the disputed presidential elections in Ivory Coast show no sign of being resolved any time soon.

In anticipation of a continuing exodus from the country, the UNHCR is preparing to meet the needs of up to 150,000 refugees. That is nearly twice the number of refugees that already have arrived in Liberia.

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