UNHCR warns that Côte d'Ivoire needs going dangerously overlooked

Briefing Notes, 11 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 11 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency is becoming increasingly concerned by the very limited response we have seen thus far to the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. While international attention has been focused in recent weeks on events in North Africa, the unfolding tragedy in West Africa has gone largely overlooked. With some 370,000 people displaced in Abidjan and western Côte d'Ivoire, and 76, 956 refugees registered so far in Liberia the total displacement numbers are nearing the half million mark.

On 14 January UNHCR appealed for US$46 million in funding, mainly to help deal with the outflow of refugees into neighbouring Liberia. So far we have received only US$5 million of this sum, and promises of a further US$13 million. With the growing displacement, UNHCR is considering a new and increased funding appeal next week, and we hope donors will respond more positively.

Currently we are seeing a further degrading of the security environment in Abidjan. From new clashes in the Abobo district on March 6th and Cocody district on March 7th we have had reports of 30 people wounded and three deaths. Armed checkpoints are continuing to make travel around the city dangerous, affecting the entire population.

UNHCR is continuing to help where we can, often working through local NGOs. So far we have identified some 20 sites around the city where large numbers of internally displaced people are concentrated. While needs assessments and numbers of IDPs are still being determined in some of these locations it is already clear that people are in urgent need of food and non-food aid including medicine.

Outside Abidjan, the violence in the west appears to be spreading to central and southeastern parts of the country. People forced to flee are reporting attempts to stop them from moving and physical abuse, including reported rape cases.

In Liberia this week, our staff spoke to a 21-year-old Ivorian refugee woman who fled with her two-year-old son after rebels beat her for resisting rape. More and more refugees fleeing into Liberia are recounting gunfire along the way, sometimes forcing them to hide or sleep in the bush.

With the growing influx we are revising our planning in Liberia and increasing the budget to respond to the needs of up to 150,000 refugees.

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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.