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As razing of Ivorian shantytowns continues, refugees ask to go home to Sierra Leone

As razing of Ivorian shantytowns continues, refugees ask to go home to Sierra Leone

Thirteen shantytowns in Abidjan have so far been razed, displacing some 40,000 people. With some 30 more shantytowns reportedly slated for destruction and increasing numbers of people leaving the country, more displaced Sierra Leonean refugees have approached UNHCR to request repatriation.
19 November 2002
A Liberian refugee assessing what remains of his shantytown home in Abidjan's Deux-Plateaux area. His house was looted but spared the razing.

ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, November 19 (UNHCR) - As the razing of shantytowns in the Ivorian city of Abidjan continues, the UN refugee agency has received more requests from refugees wishing to go home to Sierra Leone - requests the agency may not be able to meet given current financial constraints.

Since an attempted coup in Côte d'Ivoire on September 19, some 200,000 people - Ivorians, immigrants and refugees - have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country as a result of the civil conflict, as well as actions taken by authorities to level shantytowns.

According to non-governmental agencies working in Abidjan, 13 shantytowns in the commercial capital have been razed in post-coup security sweeps by either the military or the gendarmerie (police force), displacing an estimated 40,000 people. Up to 30 more shantytowns are reportedly slated for destruction by the authorities.

Of some 73,000 refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, UNHCR is currently caring for more than 1,100 newly displaced refugees in seven sites around Abidjan. The refugees are feeling increasingly exposed as Ivorians continue fleeing to neighbouring countries and foreign nationals return home to escape the mayhem.

UNHCR recently repatriated 26 Sierra Leonean refugees who had asked to go home due to the rising insecurity in Abidjan. Among the over 550 Sierra Leonean refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, more have requested to return home, and UNHCR expects the number to increase. However, the agency has said it is not sure it can afford to repatriate them given its current funding shortfall.

Meanwhile, Abidjan's displaced people - locals and foreigners - are increasingly being forced to live under unsanitary and inhumane conditions. Families have been separated because sometimes little or no notice is given for the razing of shantytowns.

Some of those who lost their homes are now living on top of the ruins. Others are living with families and friends, while many have moved to similarly precarious sites.

Aid agencies say children have stopped going to school, either because their schools have been destroyed, or because they can no longer afford the school fees. Some lost their ID cards and money when their homes were levelled, while others have moved to sites that are too far from school.