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March 14, 2011

Ivory Coast: Aid Agencies Struggle to Help Displaced

by Joe DeCapua

It’s estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 people have been displaced by the political turmoil and fighting in Ivory Coast.  Humanitarian agencies and NGOs are stretched thin trying to help.

Tens of thousands of refugees have crossed the border into Liberia, seeking shelter in villages and camps run by the United Nations.  Tuesday, the aid agency Oxfam flew in emergency supplies to help Ivorian refugees there.

Oxfam’s regional campaign and policy manager, Steve Cockburn, who is in Monrovia, says, “Oxfam has just shipped in supplies for about 70,000 people, water and sanitation supplies largely, to be set up in refugee camps along the border with Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia.  So it’s everything from hygiene kits to latrine slabs to drilling equipment.”

Oxfam plans to transport the supplies overland to Nimba County and Grand Gueddeh in the east.  It says camps are being readied there that could hold as many as 250,000 refugees.

“Oxfam is very involved in [the] set-up of those camps and especially making sure that water and sanitation supplies are provided to refugees,” says Cockburn.

Much left behind

Many of the Ivoirian refugees in Liberia had to leave their homes in a hurry and took little with them.

He says, “There are obviously a lot of distress and confusion and a real need for protection, for security, but also the basics of food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene.  So, at the moment, quite a lot are being looked after in host communities, which themselves have very poor facilities.  Others are spread around in make-shift shelters around forests and other areas along the border.

Cockburn describes the situation as “quite serious,” adding, “There’s a real need for action from NGOs, from donor governments, from U.N. agencies to really make sure that this effort’s stepped up and people get everything that they need.”

Good Samaritans need help, too

Oxfam is planning to provide seeds and agricultural support to host families, who have exhausted their own food stocks by feeding thousands of refugees.

“These communities will feel the stress and they will themselves need support.  So, Oxfam is involved working with other partners to make sure they receive…all the care and support that they need as well,” he says.

Evacuations

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is very involved in helping the displaced in Ivory Coast.  The Mauritanian government has asked the IOM for help in evacuating some of its citizens.

IOM spokesperson Jemini Pandya says, “From tomorrow (Wednesday), we’ll be evacuating more than 400 Mauritanian migrants, who’ve been basically camping out around the Mauritanian embassy in Abidjan.  They feel that they’ve been particularly targeted in Abidjan.  They want to leave and go back home as soon as possible.”

The embassy has already evacuated about 1800 Mauritanians by bus.  IOM estimates 40,000 Mauritanians live and work in Ivory Coast, with about 10,000 in Abidjan.

“Because they’re getting more and more people coming to ask for help, they’ve now turned to IOM to assist them and that’s what we’re doing,” she says.

There are security concerns when evacuating people by bus from the city.

“For quite some time now, humanitarian agencies have been targeted.  However, there has been some kind of a corridor that’s been set up.  I wouldn’t say it’s a humanitarian corridor, but some kind of a route through which we’ll be able to take a bus convoy to Nouakchott.

It’s expected to take the convoy about a week to arrive in Mauritania using the safer route.

“There are always risks attached to this, but the migrants were desperate to leave,” says Pandya, adding that they lacked shelter, food and water.

Ghana and Guinea

Liberia is the neighboring country with the largest number of Ivoirians refugees, about 90,000.  But for the first time, Ghana is starting to see a trickle of Ivoirian refugees cross its border.  About 100 people arrived last Friday and Saturday.

“They’re all being forced to move and, at the end of the day, they all need protection and assistance, humanitarian assistance…for now…but also for the long term because they all had to leave their businesses, their jobs, their savings, their belongings as they flee,” she says.

Thousands Ivoirian refugees and Guinean migrants have also crossed the border into Guinea.  She says they are “continuing to stay in the border areas in the forest region of Guinea because they want to stay close to their homes, their lands, their business, their cattle, which are in Cote d’Ivoire.”

However, there’s no infrastructure in the region to support the displaced.

“We’re urgently also asking for funding to allow us to be able to look at long-term livelihood solutions for them that would allow them to look after themselves in the time to come, but also to help refurbish and rebuild infrastructure along these border areas,” she says.

Meanwhile....

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, through local partners, began distributing aid in Abidjan this past weekend.  However, it says, “the difficulties in doing so continue to be compounded by problems of insecurity and the resulting limited humanitarian access.”

So far, they’ve been able to reach about 10,000 people.  But access to the Abobo and Anyama districts has been “particularly problematic.”  Humanitarian agencies have appealed to donors for funds to meet emergency needs in Ivory Coast.