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Displaced in Ivory Coast Need More Shelter

This mother and her child found refuge at the Catholic Mission in Duékoué after fleeing their home in January
This mother and her child found refuge at the Catholic Mission in Duékoué after fleeing their home in January

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Lisa Schlein

The United Nations refugee agency says it has begun work on a new camp for internally displaced people in western Ivory Coast. The UNHCR says it expects the current shortage of shelter for thousands of uprooted people to get worse as their numbers continue to increase.

So far, the UN refugee agency has registered 38,600 uprooted individuals in western Ivory Coast. The UNHCR says there are not enough places to house all these people and humanitarian conditions are deteriorating.

The new camp, which is located near Duekoue town, will accommodate up to 6,000 people. The UNHCR says this will relieve crowding at a nearby Catholic mission where thousands of displaced are living.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says heavy rains last week destroyed a number of makeshift shelters in the mission compound. She says the agency has provided tents to some of the affected families. But, this is only a stopgap measure.   

“Right now, we are building one camp,” Fleming said. “It is rather difficult for us – also, given the tension, the political environment and also the difficulties for, particularly, U.N. organizations to operate. This is the first site we have been able to identify and to be able to clear. That said we are, unfortunately, in anticipation that there is going to be further displacement and continued displacement. We are looking for other sites for new camps.”  

Most of the displaced in western Ivory Coast fled their homes in mid-December and early January as a result of ethnic tension and violence. This followed the disputed presidential election in November, which has still not been resolved.

The incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to give up his seat to the United Nations- recognized winner, Alassane Ouattara. This has ushered in a period of fear and instability, which has displaced tens of thousands of people inside Ivory Coast and prompted more than 36,300 Ivorians to flee to neighboring Liberia.

Fleming says some of the displaced people say they cannot return to their homes because they have been burned down and their possessions looted. Others report physical and sexual violence, as well as arbitrary detention by armed groups acting with impunity.

“Civilians do remain traumatized by the recent troubles, which many see as reminiscent of the civil conflict in 2002,” she added. “And, they remember that very well. As a result, many families who we speak to say that they have left their homes in anticipation of a possible attack. They tell us they fear becoming trapped in case of renewed war and will only consider returning to their homes once the political deadlock is resolved and their security is assured.”  

Fleming says the political deadlock is causing widespread fear. She warns failure to resolve this standoff could trigger displacement on a massive scale.

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