Côte d'Ivoire: fighting reported spreading westwards
Developments in Côte d'Ivoire in the past several days are extremely worrying. The latest reports from our field offices indicate that fighting has spread to the west of the country, in the Danané and Man areas. These areas host a large part of the 70,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire. Yesterday (Thursday), refugees in Danané were calling relatives in Abidjan reporting they were hearing gunfire. Danané alone hosts 30,000 refugees. It is located 420 km west north-west of Abidjan, along the country's border with Liberia and Guinea. UNHCR staff were unable on Thursday to travel from our office in Guiglo to Danané, 100 km to the east, because of reports of fighting.
Since the conflict began in Côte d'Ivoire in September, at least 10,000 Liberian refugees are reported to have returned to Liberia, where the government is also fighting an insurgency. Since January of this year, around 90,000 Liberians have fled from Liberia, 16,000 of them to Côte d'Ivoire.
Around 500 Sierra Leonean refugees in Danané have requested that they be repatriated to Sierra Leone. We are making arrangements to transport to Sierra Leone today 56 Sierra Leoneans who have found their way to Abidjan.
To the north, 3,365 Ivorians and Malian immigrant workers in Côte d'Ivoire have fled to Mali, where we are preparing urgent facilities to shelter them.
We are also airlifting additional relief supplies to our regional logistics hub in Ghana in the event that the situation in the region deteriorates further. We are also taking steps to ensure that refugees are not drawn into the conflict or become a source of tension. In Liberia, we have dispatched staff and relief aid to help new arrivals, both Liberian returnees and any Ivorians coming through five entry points from the Côte d'Ivoire frontier.
We remain hopeful that a solution can be found in the country that for years has sheltered asylum seekers from throughout the region. An implosion could be catastrophic. There are several million migrant workers in Côte d'Ivoire who may have to go back to countries that are among the most impoverished and conflict-ridden in Africa. The Liberian refugees, for example, have nowhere to go.