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UN Says Thousands of Ivorians Flee Post-Election Crisis

  • Lisa Schlein

Ivorian women who have fled seen collecting water in Guiglo

Ivorian women who have fled seen collecting water in Guiglo

The UN refugee agency reports some 2,000 Ivorians, mostly women and children, have fled to neighboring Liberia and Guinea, following the post-electoral crisis in Ivory Coast.

UN refugee spokesman, Andre Mahejic says the refugees do not claim to have been threatened or attacked by fellow Ivorians.

"They told UNHCR their movement was precautionary prompted by fears of instability and violence as the political deadlock persists," Mahejic said. "A first group of 300 refugees reached Liberia on 29 November, a day after the second round of presidential elections. Guinea started registering arrivals on Wednesday."

A potentially deadly stalemate exists between the self-proclaimed president, Laurent Gbagbo and his electoral opponent, Alassane Quattara, who is considered to have won the presidency by the international community.

Fears are rising that the country may break out into civil war as it did in 2002. Last week, the human rights group Amnesty International reported dozens of opposition supporters were beaten or wounded by bullets, killing at least nine people.

UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic says an estimated 1,700 Ivorians have crossed into Nimba county in northeastern Liberia and another 200 have arrived exhausted in Guinea after having walked for two days.

"UNHCR teams are currently visiting refugees in both countries," he added. They are scattered in isolated and poor border villages, hosted by local communities, which have been generously sharing their resources. Our teams, visiting the border areas are registering the new arrivals and assessing their conditions in order to respond to their immediate needs. Most of the Ivorian asylum seekers are in good physical health and in good condition. But, they urgently need food and shelter to ease the pressure on the local communities hosting them. They also need clean drinking water, clothing and basic cooking and hygiene items."

Before the current crisis, the UNHCR has been assisting some 13,000 Ivorian refugees who fled the 2002 civil war in their country. They remain in exile in Liberia, Guinea and Mali.

Mahecic says the UNHCR is continuing to monitor very closely the situation in and around Ivory Coast. He says the agency is taking steps to strengthen its readiness to respond should the situation deteriorate.

He says the UNHCR has a regional warehouse in Ghana, which stores emergency relief items. He says these items could be sent almost immediately to cover any emergency in West Africa, including the one growing in Ivory Coast.