Escalating violence in Côte d'Ivoire sees dramatic rise in displacement

Briefing Notes, 25 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 25 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Escalating insecurity in Côte d'Ivoire's Abidjan is seeing a sharp rise in displacement. Available estimates are that between 700,000 and one million people could now be displaced. These are mainly residents from the districts of Abobo, Adjamamé, Williamsville and Yopougon some of the city's most heavily populated areas.

The massive displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being fueled by fears of all out war. This week, we have seen panic in Abidjan as thousands of youths have responded to the call for civilians to join the ranks of forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo.

At least 462 civilians have lost their lives in Abidjan since the beginning of the post-electoral crisis, according to our UN partners.

Families fleeing areas of conflict have told UNHCR monitors that they are afraid of being caught in the fighting and killed by stray bullets. Others say they can no longer cope financially due to closures of banks and businesses and resulting unemployment. Costs of food have risen, and there is little available in the markets.

Price rises have also hit public transport. Bus terminals are overcrowded with passengers desperate to get seats on vehicles heading to northern, central and eastern parts of the country where there has been no fighting so far.

Meanwhile in the west, armed confrontation is spreading and causing further displacement. People from Blolequin, Guiglo, Duekoué and Toulepleu have deserted towns because of fighting. Areas in the combat zones between Blolequin and Guiglo have been subject to mass looting, rapes and killings of civilians mainly perpetrated by mercenaries and other unidentified armed groups.

In Guiglo, our office was looted on Wednesday by unidentified armed men. They took away three vehicles and two motorbikes, all office equipments and furniture. Fortunately, our staff were not harmed. Vehicles were also stolen from several other humanitarian agencies in the area.

We condemn this plundering of our premises and reiterate our call to all parties to protect civilians and refrain from any further deliberate targeting of humanitarian organizations.

In neighboring Liberia, we had registered as of mid week 62,099 new arrivals since February 24th. This is in addition to the 39,784 registered before that. Most refugees are seeking safety in Nimba County. However, since this week, we have been seeing many more cross into Grand Gedeh County, further south. On Tuesday alone, more than 6,000 Ivorians entered the region and settled in remote areas in and around Janzon, Tuzon and Sweaken, including in villages that are inaccessible by car. The new arrivals fled from Blolequin.

In Jazon two girls claimed to have witnessed the killing of their father by armed men during the fight. Their mother has also gone missing. We are looking after the two sisters aged 16 and 9 and hope to trace their mother through our implementing partners.

Four people drowned while crossing the Cavally River into Liberia when their boat capsized. They were two elderly men and one woman with her baby, according to an 18-year-old girl who survived the incident.

A boy of around five died from malaria and acute respiratory infection at the clinic in Janzon. The child had apparently been suffering from these ailments during his flight in the bush.

Registration of new arrivals is ongoing as the influx continues into eastern Liberia.

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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

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.