UNHCR resumes aid distribution to displaced in Ivorian massacre town

News Stories, 7 April 2011

© UNHCR/H.Caux
This young woman and her child found shelter in the Catholic mission at Duékoué after their village was attacked.

DUEKOUE, Côte d'Ivoire, April 7 (UNHCR) Relative calm has allowed the UN refugee agency to resume the distribution of vital assistance to tens of thousands of forcibly displaced people in the western Côte d'Ivoire town of Duékoué.

This morning, UNHCR implementing partner CARITAS started handing out blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, jerrycans, soap and sanitary kits in the Catholic mission in Duékoué. The World Food Programme ran a simultaneous food distribution.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported earlier this week that at least 800 people were killed on March 29 in intercommunal violence in Duékoué, which is now under the command of forces loyal to presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara.

All sides have denied responsibility for the massacres in Duékoué, which has been rocked by violence since December. At the height of the conflict, up to 50,000 people found refuge in the Catholic mission, which is protected by UN peace-keeping troops.

UNHCR has been unable to work in the west since mid-March due to the dire security situation, but the aid supplies distributed today were trucked to the Catholic mission in Duékoué from the town of Man, where the refugee agency and other aid organizations have functioning offices.

Tane Bamba, who oversees UNHCR's operations in western Côte d'Ivoire, attended the distribution. "I can see in the eyes of the IDPs [internally displaced people] that they are relieved to see the humanitarian community back," he said. "Many of them are still scared and traumatized after the massacres and it did not help that they were mostly left on their own for weeks," he added.

Bamba and his team are working with the local authorities to identify empty public buildings to house people now at the crowded Catholic mission, where UNHCR helped register some 27,000 IDPs between Sunday and Tuesday.

Many of the displaced told UNHCR staff that they hoped to see security restored in their areas of origin so that they could return home. But ethnic tensions remain very high in the area.

Humanitarian organizations estimate that some 100,000 people are displaced within the west of the country, while a further 135,000 have fled to nearby Liberia. About half are in or around Duékoué.

Although the all-out fighting between pro-Ouattara supporters and those loyal to rival presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo appears to have ended, many people remain in hiding in the bush.

In Zouhan-houyen, the local prefect has called on UNHCR for assistance after gathering some 11,000 people who had fled their homes. A UNHCR team was sent to the area on Wednesday with enough supplies to help 5,000 people. The refugee agency has enough aid in its Man office for almost 20,000 people and hopes to bring in relief items for a further 25,000 people.

"We will have to find those people in the bush and take them to IDP sites where they can get water, food and medical assistance. Some of them don't know that the fighting has stopped," said Bamba.

But although relative peace has come to the west, fighting continues in the commercial capital of Abidjan, where several UNHCR staff remain trapped on Thursday afternoon in their office with some 300 Liberian refugees.




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.