UNHCR warns against worsening crisis in Côte d'Ivoire
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, November 29 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today said that renewed fighting has spread to refugee-hosting areas in Côte d'Ivoire and warned that the situation could easily become "catastrophic".
"Developments in Côte d'Ivoire in the past several days are extremely worrying," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a press briefing in Geneva Friday.
UNHCR field offices and local officials said fighting has engulfed the Danané and Man areas in western Côte d'Ivoire since government forces went on the offensive on Wednesday amid charges of cease-fire violations. The two areas host the majority of the 70,000 Liberian and 3,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the country.
Renewed fighting occurred as international mediators in Togo were attempting to hammer out a peace accord to end the conflict that broke out following a failed coup attempt on September 19.
"We remain hopeful that a solution can be found in the country that for years has sheltered asylum seekers from throughout the region," said Redmond. "An implosion could be catastrophic."
There are several million migrant workers in Côte d'Ivoire. Redmond said if the situation deteriorates, they, along with Ivorians in the nation of 16 million, may have to go back to their countries that are among the most impoverished and conflict-ridden in Africa. "The Liberian refugees, for example, have nowhere to go," said the UNHCR spokesman.
On Thursday, refugees in Danané were calling relatives in Abidjan to report that they were hearing gunfire. Danané hosts 30,000 refugees. It is located 420 km north-west of Abidjan along the country's border with Liberia and Guinea. UNHCR staff were unable to proceed on Thursday from their base at Guiglo to Danané, 100 km to the west, because of reports of fighting.
In the past two months, at least 10,000 Liberian refugees were reported to have returned to Liberia, where the government is also battling an insurgency. Since January, 90,000 Liberians have fled from Liberia. Some 16,000 of them went to Sierra Leone.
Around 500 Sierra Leonean refugees in Danané have requested assistance in leaving the region. On Friday, the UN refugee agency was scheduled to transport 56 Sierra Leoneans who had requested to be repatriated.
To the north, 3,365 Ivorians and Malian immigrant workers in Côte d'Ivoire have arrived in Mali, where the refugee agency is preparing emergency facilities to shelter them.
UNHCR is airlifting relief supplies to its regional logistics hub in Ghana and deploying staff to the region. Staff in Abidjan are taking steps to ensure that people of concern to the office are not drawn into the conflict or become a source of tension.
In Liberia, the UNHCR office in Monrovia has sent staff and relief aid to help both Liberian returnees and Ivorians coming through five entry points from the Côte d'Ivoire frontier.