Alarming IDP conditions in western Côte d'Ivoire; reconciliation needed
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
In western Côte d'Ivoire, and with the security situation apparently calming, our staff are reporting large groups of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in alarming humanitarian conditions. We believe that major reconciliation efforts will be needed for IDPs and Ivorian refugees in neighbouring countries to be able to return home in safety and dignity.
An estimated 200,000 people in western Côte d'Ivoire have been displaced by post-election violence over the past four months. Insecurity prevented access to many of them. Medical staff also deserted the region. Although fighting appears to have ended, ethnic tensions are still high and many people remain in hiding in the bush.
In Duékoué, 27,000 people are currently sheltered at the overcrowded Catholic mission after fleeing villages within a 40 kilometre radius of the town. This week, five of these people died from malaria.
Many of the displaced told UNHCR staff they are waiting to see security restored in their areas of origin so that they can return home. Some have asked to be escorted back to their villages, for fear of harassment at checkpoints. There have been reports over the past 10 days of rape and physical abuse by armed men along the Duékoué to Bangolo route. Other IDPs, traumatized by the recent massacres in Duékoué, say they want to leave the town to seek out their families in other areas.
Elsewhere in the west, a UNHCR team recently visited the department of Zouhan-Hounien and one of its sub-prefectures, Bin Houye, near the border with Liberia, They met more than 1,000 displaced people mainly originating from Guiglo, Blolequin and Toulepleu. Some were staying on the premises of a Catholic church and the Ivorian Red Cross in Zouhan-Hounien. Others were found in a youth centre in Bin-Houye. All three IDP sites lack clean water, latrines and electricity. Some of the displaced were sleeping on the bare floor or on bags of cocoa.
Some IDPs are hoping to be relocated to sites with more space and humanitarian aid. Others are asking for help to rebuild their damaged homes.
UNHCR is working to increase its presence in western Côte d'Ivoire to effectively respond to these needs. So far, we have been concentrating on aid distribution, as well as registering and profiling the IDPs in Duékoué to identify their needs and intentions to return.
Meanwhile, nearly 6,000 Ivorians have crossed into neighbouring Liberia's Grand Gedeh county since Monday. As supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, these ethnic Guéré refugees - who had been waiting on the border for weeks - said they crossed into Liberia by foot following news of Gbagbo's arrest and reports of reprisal attacks in Abidjan. Some arrived in Liberia malnourished. UNHCR and our partners have been providing nutritional support.
With this week's new influx, there are now more than 150,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, in addition to over 13,000 hosted in other West African countries.
For further information on this topic, please contact:
In Monrovia: Sulaiman Momodu on mobile +231 649 38 62
In Accra: Ewurabena Hutchful on moible +233 244 33 19 25
In Geneva: Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483