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More Help Needed to Address Ivory Coast Refugee Crisis, says UNHCR


The U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees said there has been only a weak response to her request for regional assistance to find a solution to the refugee crisis in Ivory Coast. The Deputy High Commissioner has just returned from an 11-day mission to Ivory Coast, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Mary Ann Wyrsch said she is grateful that the four West African countries are keeping their borders open to refugees. But, she said efforts to find safe alternative sites in the region to house the refugees have, so far, been fruitless.

Ms. Wyrsch said the situation for Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast is very precarious and has become more dangerous since the controversial Paris peace accords were signed last week. She said government supporters view the refugees as sympathetic to the rebels and it is government supporters who have been on the rampage in recent days to protest against the peace accord signed last week.

"I must say to you in general, that the hostility against refugees, even though they had been there a long time, is at an extremely high level because refugees were seen to be among the combatants in the west of the country in the two [rebel] groups that were formed recently. And, they are thought to be contributing to destabilization," she said.

Ms. Wyrsch said during her trip she told West African officials refugees must be considered neutral parties and not as part of the conflict.

She said she also told Ivorian government officials they must not recruit Liberian refugees into the army.

The U.N. refugee agency reports it has resumed some of its relief activities in Ivory Coast. The agency suspended all operations throughout the country on Sunday amid rioting that erupted after the signing of the Paris peace accord.

A U.N. refugee spokeswoman said a convoy of 100 Liberian refugees left Tabou, in southwestern Ivory Coast, for Liberia on Wednesday. The move is part of an emergency return that has helped about 900 Liberians get home in recent weeks. The spokeswoman said the operation remains risky and will be assessed from day to day.