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