Ivorian exodus spreads in West Africa as crisis deepens
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR continues to be extremely concerned by the spiraling violence in Côte d' Ivoire. While Abidjan has been relatively calm over the past few days, new clashes were reported yesterday in the West, the Center-West and the East.
The clashes in the West are reported in the town of Duékoué following attacks by the Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (RFCI). Duékoué has experienced several episodes of violence since December. For the first time also, hostilities have spread to the town of Daloa, some 100 kilometres east of Duékoué, and to Bondoukou near the Ghanaian border as the RFCI push for greater territorial control.
UNHCR continues to advocate with both forces for civilians to be protected from harm.
With each new clash in western Côte d' Ivoire, Liberia is in turn seeing new arrivals of refugees. For a week now, eastern Liberia's Grand Gedeh county has been receiving the largest influx due to fierce fighting in the Ivorian town of Blolequin. Since last Tuesday UNHCR working with the local authorities has registered over 10,000 new arrivals, mostly in the Gbarzon and Tchein Districts. This brings to 24,507 the number of refugees in the county, accounting for 22 percent of the total 112,000 Ivorian refugees who fled to Liberia since late November.
Movement into Grand Gedeh County continues at a rate of around 300-400 people crossing daily. We are bracing for further arrivals, as refugees tell us that many more civilians are en route to Liberia.
Several people say they left family members behind in their panic, including children. To reach Liberia, they cross the Cavally River with very few possessions and usually no money. Some could only carry bundles on their heads.
UNHCR colleagues in Grand Gedeh can only register refugees and distribute aid in one location at a time given the rough terrain, the isolation of most areas and the long travel time from one spot to the other. We have deployed staff from Saclepea, in Nimba County further north, to strengthen our operations in the region. We have also dispatched relief items and we are working with the World Food Programme to ensure food distribution and provision of high energy biscuits for all new arrivals.
The impact of the Côte d' Ivoire violence is now also being felt in Ghana where we are stepping up preparedness to respond. The number of new arrivals currently stands at 3,129, mainly people from Abidjan and its suburbs. They cross into western Ghana via the Elubo border where we have set up a transit center.
UNHCR opened a first refugee camp 10 days ago in the town of Ampain with the capacity to accommodate up to 3,000 refugees and we are currently working with the authorities to identify a second, bigger, camp. UNHCR is providing food as well as non-food aid. We are also racing to complete works on water, health and sanitation facilities.
Although the number of refugees in Ghana is relatively small, the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Côte d'Ivoire require that we be prepared for a major influx. In the coming days, we will be deploying a team of six emergency staff to Ghana.
Further east still, in Togo, some 857 Ivorians have also found safety in the capital Lomé. Over 62 percent of them are males. They fled through Ghana from Abobo, PK-18, Adjame, Williamsville and Yopougon, which are among the most populous and dangerous quarters of Abidjan. Some in the group told UNHCR their properties were looted, others that they had been assaulted physically assaulted. Several women said they were raped.
Overall, some 116,000 Ivorians have fled to eight West African countries. These include, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria. Donors have thus far funded US$20 million of the US$97 million US dollars we need to care for the Ivorian refugees.
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In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483