News / Africa

Refugee Crisis Challenges Ivorian Government, Aid Workers

Refugees of the Guere ethnic group mourn the death of a relative, inside a temporary camp set up at a Catholic church in Duekoue, Ivory Coast, May 2011. (file photo)
Refugees of the Guere ethnic group mourn the death of a relative, inside a temporary camp set up at a Catholic church in Duekoue, Ivory Coast, May 2011. (file photo)
Nick Loomis

Ivory Coast's new government is working to convince refugees to return home after fleeing the violence of this year's political crisis. Many of those refugees, though, remain concerned about their security, where they will live on their return home - and if they will even have homes to which they can return.

More than 400,000 Ivorians remain displaced by the conflict that followed last November's presidential election. Most are in camps in western Ivory Coast and across the border in Liberia. Though that number is down from about one million at the height of the conflict, the remaining refugees present the greatest humanitarian challenge to the new government of President Alassane Ouattara and its aid partners.

In the north, camps on both sides of the border are emptying as civilians who support the president have returned home in large numbers.  But in the south, ethnic Guere who backed former president Laurent Gbagbo are more reluctant to leave the safety of their camps because they say they are afraid of pro-Ouattara militants.

Father Cyprien Ahoure is the priest in charge of the Catholic mission in the southern Ivorian city of Duekoue, which currently holds 3,000 refugees who are not expected to leave any time soon.

Father Ahoure said they are trying to reassure refugees, but the Ivorians have just emerged from a traumatic war and others still have ill intentions. He added that the mission needs to prepare a new site because people want to move there. Right now, every room is occupied, he said, and so is the entire courtyard.

Crowded camps, thoughts of home

In these crowded spaces, there is a lot of talk among the displaced about what is happening back home. Ahoure said there have been rumors that the camps will be closed by the government and people forced to return, but stressed that they are only rumors.

Ahoure said that for the time being, mission workers are there to help. He has not received any information, but said that when he does, the mission will act accordingly. For now, he said, it cannot ignore the plight of the displaced.

Mathieu Babaud Darret, Ivory Coast's minister in charge of ex-combatants and war victims, said the government will not close those camps, and said efforts are underway to improve relations in some of the most contentious areas through a Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Darret said the most difficult part is not rebuilding homes, but educating the people. He said the first thing is that refugees have to agree to return. Then their local population has to be willing to accept them. Darret said the Ouattara government does not intend to force them to return home, preferring instead to show them that peace is possible.

Government help toward reconciliation

The Ivorian government would like to see all refugees return home by the end of the year. Death and rape are not easily forgotten, however,  especially when refugees believe many of the perpetrators are part of the new national security force.

This is where the international aid community says the new government must step up and help reconcile political and ethnic adversaries.

For reasons of misinformation, genuine concern, or both, the process is slow, according to Gaelle Bausson from the British charity Oxfam.

"Our research found that most people actually really want to go home, they want to get back to normal, they want access to their land.  They want to get back their assets. What's preventing them from doing that is the perception that their security is not necessarily guaranteed - though there's been a major improvement in the security overall. But there are still allegations of arbitrary arrests, harassment, a lot of racketeering by armed men,” said Bausson.

Additional money needed

The United Nations says more funds are needed quickly to improve conditions before they escalate. So far, only one-third of the $292 million target has been raised. Bausson said aid workers in western Ivory Coast are making the most with what they have.

"We are only focusing on the needs of the very most vulnerable because we don't have the means to cover the entire needs that we've identified. About 30,000 people, families, had their house destroyed or burned down," said Bausson. "But in fact, right now, we only have funding for 1,300 houses. And we're asking, the entire aid community is asking for at least funding for 6,000 houses that have been identified as the households that are really vulnerable, and won't be able to rebuild their lives if they're not helped.”

Even if security can be restored, Bausson said livelihoods often cannot. More than 15,000 refugees have lost their sources of revenue, either through the destruction of their businesses, or the inability to access their lands.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs