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Côte d'Ivoire: Animosity towards new arrivals

Briefing notes

Côte d'Ivoire: Animosity towards new arrivals

23 May 2003

UNHCR is distributing relief supplies to some of an estimated 15,000 new Liberian refugees who have arrived this week in south-western Côte d'Ivoire following fighting across the border in southern Liberia.

In an attempt to ease tensions between the local community and the refugees, supplies are also being distributed to needy local people. The 15,000 new arrivals fled the rebel takeover of Harper, in southern Liberia, and arrived in Tabou after crossing the Cavaly River that separates the two countries. The flow of refugees has dwindled after the initial influx because there is no longer a way to cross the river from Liberia.

Initially, the local community had complained of the increasing numbers of Liberian refugees fleeing to Tabou. By yesterday, emotions had somewhat subsided. In the wake of the Ivorian civil war, which started last September and spread to the west of the country in November, UNHCR has helped thousands of Liberians who had been living in Côte d'Ivoire return to their homeland amid growing hostility from the Ivorians. Just days after these returns started, eastern Liberia was beset by fighting between rebels and Liberian government troops. Within weeks, the Liberian towns of Zwedru and Toe Town came under attack, sending thousands of the recent Liberian returnees fleeing once again, along with Ivorian refugees and other West Africans who had gone to Liberia.

Last week's attack by rebels on Harper was just the latest sign of the disintegrating security situation in eastern Liberia, which has forced humanitarian agencies to withdraw from the border region. About 70 aid workers from various organisations have fled Harper and are now in Tabou.

Most of this week's Liberian arrivals in Tabou have already moved inland to small Ivorian villages where some of them had lived previously. Hopefully, they will be able to integrate smoothly. Côte d'Ivoire, which previously had only one refugee camp, was one of the rare countries in Africa that was able to allow refugees to settle within local communities and villages.

The situation is now more difficult in Tabou town because of the animosity toward refugees. In Tabou, 1,700 Liberian refugees are crammed into a UNHCR transit centre meant for 700. We are still waiting for government authorisation to build a proper camp in Tabou and to extend assistance to refugees scattered in the rural villages.

We have, however, been able to distribute a first batch of domestic items - soap, blankets, mattresses, jerry cans and plastic sheeting - to the refugees at the Tabou centre and to some of the surrounding community in a gesture of appreciation for their support to the refugees.