Mass exodus out of Abidjan accelerates amid heightened insecurity

News Stories, 31 March 2011

© UNHCR/H.Caux
People in Abidjan walk to get as far away as possible from violent clashes in the city.

ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, March 31 (UNHCR) The mass exodus of civilians leaving the city of Abidjan in southern Côte d'Ivoire was continuing mid-week, with many saying they feared an imminent attack on the commercial capital.

Fears of fresh fighting in Abidjan mounted after reports on Tuesday and Wednesday that forces loyal to presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara had captured towns in the west, centre and east of the country. Ouattara has claimed victory in the November election, but his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to cede power and the political situation has been deteriorating in recent weeks.

On Wednesday morning, the indiscriminate shelling of the northern suburb of Abobo heightened the sense of insecurity in Abidjan, according to UN reports. Many families that had been reluctant to leave the area, despite mounting violence. have now decided to go. Some told UNHCR that armed groups has been abusing civilians and looting their properties.

In the district of Yopougon, UNHCR monitors reported, a group of armed youths killed the adult members of a family that had hosted people forced earlier from their own homes. Heavy fighting, widespread human rights abuses and fear of war have already forced up to 1 million people to flee their homes in Abidjan.

To date, most of the population movements have been from one district of Abidjan to another, but many of those seen leaving on Wednesday told UNHCR they were heading out of the city. Even safer residential neighbourhoods are being vacated by families worried about all-out war between the rival sides.

Some people, who were planning to leave for conflict-affected areas of central or eastern Côte d'Ivoire, asked UNHCR for help. The town of Agboville, some 80 kilometres to the north, is now one of the main destinations for people fleeing from Abidjan. In the past three days, UNHCR staff have registered more than 16,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Agboville, with more arriving.

Meanwhile, the large number of checkpoints is restricting the movements of humanitarian organizations trying to reach the needy. UNHCR and its partners have to date registered 92,840 IDPs staying with host families and another 19,387 in 36 sites, but the security situation is making it difficult to help people.

In western Côte d'Ivoire meanwhile, some 50,000 people have been displaced by two days of fighting in the town of Duékoué, which was captured by pro-Ouattara forces on Tuesday, according to UN information.

UNHCR has received reports that about 40,000 of the displaced have found shelter in a Catholic mission, with 10,000 at the Evangelical Church. A small group of 105 people were in the UN mission compound, including three with gunshot wounds.

As the security situation deteriorates in the west, more families are heading to the relatively safe towns of Man and Danané. Hospitals in Man, where UNHCR has a presence, are taking in many wounded people from Duékoué, Guiglo and other areas of the volatile west.




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

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.