Ivorian exodus grows as violence escalates in Côte d'Ivoire

Briefing Notes, 18 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 18 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are shocked at the escalating violence in Côte d'Ivoire, particularly in Abidjan where this week was by far the most violent since the post-election crisis began. Yesterday, residents of Abobo came under heavy shelling, leaving at least 25 people reported dead and many more injured. Earlier in the week, several other parts of the city also registered attacks.

A police station and the market of Williamsville were burned following attacks. One of our monitors living in the area said she saw at least some 30 shops burned down yesterday and empty bullet shell casings near her house this morning. In Adjame, another main district of Abidjan, a community radio station was also attacked and set on fire. Meanwhile, sporadic gunfire continued to be heard in several districts of Yopougon, where heavy fighting took place on Monday.

The urban warfare in Abidjan is causing further population displacements as it intensifies.

On Wednesday morning, large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) could be seen in various areas of the city. In Williamsville, Paillet and Plateau-Dokui, bus terminals were full of families seeking to go back to their villages of origin in search of safety. These districts are in close proximity to Abobo where most of them fled from.

Households hosting IDPs are seeing their resources being depleted. Our colleagues are starting to receive desperate phone calls from both these host families and IDPs for help in alleviating their suffering. We are trying to respond to their calls. However checkpoints, harassment and armed fighting are reducing humanitarian agencies' ability to move and turning aid delivery into a slow and risky undertaking. Despite these obstacles, since Saturday UNHCR has distributed -- via its partners -- aid to 13, 000 displaced people in 31 locations across Abidjan and surrounding villages such as Anyama, Ahouabo and Akoupe.

In the West we are especially worried about the fate of some 3,000 to 5,000 IDPs trapped inside the Catholic Mission in Duékoué, following renewed fighting yesterday. The IDPs are asking for help, telling us they cannot move as surrounding areas have many armed checkpoints. UNHCR and its partners are trying to arrange ways to help this population and we appeal to the warring parities to allow humanitarian access to displaced civilians.

Still in the West, ongoing fighting along the Liberian border is forcing more civilians to flee across the border. The rapidly growing number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia has now reached 90,000, putting tremendous strain on the impoverished host communities. With violence escalating inside Cote d'Ivoire we could soon reach the 100,000 refugee mark in Liberia.

In Ghana, another of Côte d'Ivoire's bordering states, we have seen for the first time this week a sudden rise in the number of Ivorians seeking asylum: over 500 people arrived from Abidjan, when only 160 refugees had previously fled since late November. They ran away as armed conflict intensified in Abidjan where over 300,000 civilians have been displaced. We fear this marks the beginning of a trend since Ghana is only 150 km from Abidjan.

The political instability is also affecting the 24,000 Liberian refugees who are residing in Côte d' Ivoire. Tomorrow, we will begin air repatriation for those of them who wish to go back to Liberia.

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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

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

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: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.