UNHCR urges humanitarian access for people trapped by fighting in Côte d'Ivoire's Abidjan

Briefing Notes, 1 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 1 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR remains alarmed by the situation for civilians trapped in the Abobo district of Côte d'Ivoire's Abidjan, where fighting has been raging now for several days.

On Friday, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, appealed for a halt to the fighting so that civilians could be allowed to leave. Today we are repeating that call. There must be no targeting of civilians. All efforts must be made to prevent civilians being placed in harm's way.

The situation in Abobo remains grim. The district is home to an estimated 1.5 million people. Many have already fled, but armed groups are reportedly preventing others from leaving. Of particular concern to us are the risks for people who may have difficulties with moving, including the elderly, the sick, and pregnant women.

As of yesterday, people were still fleeing Abobo, taking advantage of a brief lull in fighting. Church authorities tell us that some 60 families, mainly women and children, are trapped in a church where they are being prevented from leaving by armed men. They have no food, no water, and no sanitary facilities, and dead bodies are said to be lying nearby.

Our monitoring teams, which have been present on the outskirts of Abobo, have heard other reports of people being prevented from leaving the areas of fighting. Some families have been forced to hand over money or personal possessions to be allowed to leave. There are reports of many dead bodies, buses burned and shops looted, and of young militiamen attacking people inside their homes.

Those who have already made it out are having to contend with rising transportation costs as thousands of families try to board taxis, buses or private cars to reach safer neighborhoods or their home villages. Taxi drivers are reported to be refusing to take people to some destinations in other parts of the city because of reports of gunfire over the weekend.

Separately, in western Côte d'Ivoire most of the 9,000 displaced people at the Catholic mission in Duekoue have left out of fear of new conflict. The camp UNHCR was planning to build in the area is now on hold.

Over the past days 29,725 people have fled across the border to Liberia, joining the 40,000 Ivorian refugees already there. UNHCR is responding to this escalating influx with plans for a further camp. We are also increasing our capacity to transfer people to the 15 designated villages or to the existing Bahn camp where there are basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water. The majority of refugees in Liberia are still hosted in more than 76 border villages, most of which are in remote, inaccessible locations.