UNHCR urges international community to remember Côte d'Ivoire

The UN refugee agency urges the international community to step up support for the emergency response to the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire.

UNHCR is seeking more funding to support displaced Ivorians, like these women in the west of the country. They have moved furniture so that they can put their mats on the floor.  © UNHCR/H.Caux

GENEVA, March 11 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday urged the international community to step up support for the emergency response to the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, where almost half-a-million people have been displaced by conflict since November.

"While international attention has been focused in recent weeks on events in North Africa, the unfolding tragedy in West Africa has gone largely overlooked," UNHCR spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva.

She noted that UNHCR had appealed in mid-January for US$46 million in funding, mainly to help deal with the outflow of refugees into neighbouring Liberia, where some 77,000 Ivorians have been registered. A further 370,000 people have been displaced within Côte d'Ivoire by the fighting between supporters of the main rivals in November's presidential election.

"So far we have received only US$5 million of this sum, and promises of a further US$13 million," Fleming said of the funding appeal, adding: "With the growing displacement, UNHCR is considering a new and increased funding appeal next week, and we hope donors will respond more positively."

She noted that UNHCR staff were reporting a further deterioration of the security environment in Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital of Abidjan, where much of the displacement has occurred.

"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," Fleming said.

"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 (IDP) are concentrated," the UNHCR spokesperson added.

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 western Côte d'Ivoire appears to be spreading to central and south-eastern 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, UNHCR staff spoke to a 21-year-old Ivorian refugee 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," Fleming said in Geneva.

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