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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs