UNHCR says lives at risk in Côte d'Ivoire, calls for opposing groups to support humanitarian efforts

Briefing Notes, 8 March 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is today appealing to warring groups in Côte d'Ivoire to commit themselves to supporting urgently-needed humanitarian efforts and avoid placing civilian lives at risk.

As of Monday an estimated 200,000-300,000 people were displaced in Abidjan and a further 70,000 people in the country's west, in both cases as a result of recent or ongoing fighting. The humanitarian and protection needs are growing fast. Thousands of people across Abidjan remain holed up in community centres where conditions are inadequate and where protection needs have not been properly assessed. In Abobo district some 60 families remain trapped in a church and apparently prevented by fighters from leaving. In western Côte d'Ivoire humanitarian access to people in need has been severely impeded by insecurity. As a result thousands of displaced people are almost entirely without help.

The risks for civilians, including people of concern under UNHCR's mandate, are also growing. Persistent reports that Liberian mercenaries are being brought in to join the fighting is fueling distrust. This in turn is creating risks for the 24,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire.

The number of Ivorians fleeing into eastern Liberia has also risen dramatically. UNHCR has so far registered some 75,000 refugees, of whom around half have arrived since 24th February. From government and other partners we have reports of a further approximately 7000 arrivals. This sudden influx is placing enormous strains on local communities and abilities of aid organizations to help. In Buutuo Town, in eastern Liberia's Nimba County, the water and sanitation situation has become critical, with reported cases of diarrhoea and malaria, and food shortages. UNHCR and its partners have been working to rehabilitate bridges and roads to improve access. We have also been providing direct support where we can to refugees and the communities around them.

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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.