UNHCR warns that 'humanitarian space' is shrinking fast in Côte d'Ivoire

Briefing Notes, 4 March 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 4 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is warning today that access for humanitarian organizations in Abidjan and other parts of Côte d'Ivoire is shrinking rapidly amid widening insecurity.

In Abidjan, the estimated number of displaced people now exceeds 200,000 most of these are people who have fled the fighting in Abobo. Many are staying with friends or relatives, but large numbers possibly a quarter of the displaced are staying in temporary locations around the city, including in churches and other communal places. These groups are in urgent need of humanitarian help.

UNHCR is seeking access to these vulnerable individuals, including by working through NGOs that we have been coordinating with. But humanitarian space in Abidjan as elsewhere in Côte d'Ivoire is being squeezed hard. Large numbers of refugees from Liberia, who are unable to repatriate, have taken refuge in the UNHCR compound in Abidjan since Monday 28th February.

In Abobo, which is normally home to around 1.5 million people, the recent fighting has disrupted communications by destroying SMS and TV transmitters. We are still very concerned about a group of 60 families trapped inside a church and without proper food, water, or sanitation, and we have appealed to combatants for these people to be let out. Insecurity in Abidjan has also spread to the Deux Plateaux, Cocody, and Koumassi neighbourhoods and the business district of Le Plateau. We are seeing increasing numbers of roadblocks.

Heavy fighting has also taken place in the west of the country around Duékoué as well as in Blolequin about 90 kilometres further south. We estimate that there are currently around 70,000 displaced people in the west and we continue to see large numbers of people crossing into Liberia.

In eastern Liberia itself UNHCR has registered some 40,000 refugees since the elections in November. Since 24 February these have been joined by 32,800 new arrivals putting local communities and the Liberian authorities under considerable strain. Host communities and refugees are in need of food, and road access problems continue to make it difficult to get aid to people in need. Meanwhile UNHCR is rushing to build a second camp




UNHCR country pages

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

UNHCR has expressed its mounting concern about civilians trapped in the Abobo district of Cote d'Ivoire's commercial centre, Abidjan, following days of fierce fighting between forces loyal to rival presidential candidates. The situation there remains grim. Many of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Abobo have fled, but armed groups are reportedly preventing others from leaving. UNHCR is particularly concerned about vulnerable people, such as the sick and the elderly, who may not be able to leave.

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Arrival at Bahn CampPlay video

Liberia: Arrival at Bahn Camp

UNHCR has opened a new camp for up to 15,000 Ivorian refugees at Bahn in eastern Liberia. Follow the arrival of the first group.