News / Africa

Exodus Grows As Violence Escalates In Ivory Coast

Refugees, who fled the post-election instability in Ivory Coast, wait to be registered at a camp in Liberia
Refugees, who fled the post-election instability in Ivory Coast, wait to be registered at a camp in Liberia

The United Nations refugee agency reports a significant rise in the number of people fleeing the Ivory Coast as fighting escalates and more people are being killed and injured.  The UNHCR says violence is impeding its ability to assist people trapped by the conflict.

United Nations officials are expressing shock at the escalating violence in Ivory Coast, particularly in the commercial capital Abidjan.  They say this week has been the most violent since the post-election crisis began in December.

The United Nations reports at least 25 people were killed on Thursday alone in the Abobo neighborhood.  This area is a stronghold of the internationally recognized President, Alassane Ouattara.  

Fighting between Ouattara and his rival for the presidency, Laurent Gbagbo, has displaced an estimated 300,000 people in Abidjan alone.  U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, says the urban warfare in the city is causing even more people to flee their homes.

She says households hosting the displaced are seeing their resources being depleted.

“We are trying out best.  We are getting desperate calls from the people, the generous people who are hosting them, but whose food and supplies have run out.  We are trying our best to respond to their calls, but checkpoints, harassment, armed fighting are reducing ours and our partners ability to reach these people,” said Fleming.  

Fleming says people are rushing to get out of harm’s way.  She says ongoing fighting in the West, along the Liberian border is forcing more civilians to flee across the border.  She says the number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia is rapidly growing and currently stands at 90,000.  But, she adds that number could soon reach the 100,000 mark.

As violence escalates in Ivory Coast, Fleming says the UNHCR is seeing a new trend emerge. “The numbers have been very small in the other countries, but now the numbers in neighboring Ghana are growing.  It is still 500 people.  But, it is only 150…kilometers from Abidjan.  So, we are worried and we are making contingencies that this could be at the beginning of a refugee situation of significant magnitude in Ghana,” said the spokeswoman.  

Fleming notes within this chaotic mix of internally displaced people and refugees is a relatively small group of Liberian refugees.  She says the political instability also is affecting the 24,000 Liberian refugees who are residing in Ivory Coast.

She says the UNHCR is beginning an airlift on Saturday to repatriate any of the refugees who wish to go back to the homes they fled in Liberia many years ago.

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