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.