News / Africa

UN: One Million Flee Ivory Coast Violence as Crisis Deepens

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
Julia Ritchey

The United Nations Refugee Agency says an escalation in post-election violence in Ivory Coast has forced up to one million Ivorians to flee the capital Abidjan, as the United Nations also promised an investigation into alleged abuses taking place there.

The U.N. Refugee Agency warned Friday that between 700,000 and one million could now be displaced due to heavy fighting in Abidjan between forces loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news conference Friday in Geneva that the situation is getting worse.

“Families fleeing areas of conflicts have told UNHCR monitors that they are terrified of being caught up in the fighting and killed by stray bullets," said Fleming. "Others say they can no longer cope financially due to the closures of banks and businesses and resulting unemployment.”

Ivory Coast has been on the brink of a civil war since November's contested presidential elections in which incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power after losing to the internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara.

Fleming says the growing chaos has caused a scarcity of food in the markets and prices have soared. Civilians are leaving town by any means necessary.

“Bus terminals are overcrowded with passengers desperate to get seats on vehicles heading to northern, central and eastern parts of the country where, fortunately, there has thus far been no reported fighting," she said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council announced Friday it will dispatch an independent international commission of inquiry to probe allegations of serious abuse and rights violations going on in the country, including reports of mass graves and extrajudicial killings.

At a meeting of the HRC earlier this week in Geneva, two Ivorian women asked the body to fully investigate what happened at a peaceful demonstration earlier this month where seven Ivorian women were killed.

One of those who testified, Tenin Toure Diabate, is a professor and civil society women's activist in Abidjan. Diabate says the situation on the ground is perilous, especially for women.

She says many women are forced to leave with their children and bare belongings to flee the violence. Abidjan is being emptied out of its women. Diabate says when women leave, they are exposing themselves to many threats, and there are cases of rape being reported now in Ivory Coast.

Doctors Without Borders on Friday said the crisis is impacting health care, as many medical personnel have fled the conflict along with the general population. In Abidjan alone, the agency says six hospitals have seen the departure of most of their staff due to the fighting.

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