The U.N. refugee agency reports a significant increase in the number of people fleeing Ivory Coast to neighboring countries in the wake of the country’s controversial October 31 presidential election.
More than 8,000 Ivorians have fled rising political tensions in Ivory Coast. That is up from 3,200 in just one week. The U.N. refugee agency says it fears the number will continue to grow as ongoing violence shows no signs of abating.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says 7,500 refugees have fled to Liberia. The others, he says, have sought refuge in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea and Togo.
“Over 60% of arrivals are children, some of whom arrived unaccompanied or separated from their parents. Older people and pregnant women have also fled, most carrying just a few belongings and little to no food or money at all.” Baloch said.
Alassane Ouattara won a third presidential term by an overwhelming margin of 94%. Opposition parties boycotted the election, calling his bid for a third term illegal under the constitution’s two-term limit. Ouattara has argued the two-term limit does not apply to him under a new constitution adopted in 2016.
Dozens of people reportedly have been killed in election-related violence.
Baloch told VOA fear of violence is driving the current exodus.
“This brings back bad memories from 2011 of the presidential election then, which claimed the lives of 3,000 people and forced over 300,000 to flee. So, these people who are coming, they are not mentioning currently being targeted…or them being attacked. But it is the fear of violence,” he said.
Baloch said most refugees in Liberia wish to remain close to the border and return home as soon as the situation stabilizes.
In the meantime, the UNHCR is increasing aid for the refugees. Baloch said the agency is planning to airlift essential relief items for up to 10,000 refugees in Liberia. He said aid workers are racing to distribute humanitarian aid, including food and cash and to provide water, sanitation and shelter.