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Côte d'Ivoire: Continued uncertainty

Briefing notes

Côte d'Ivoire: Continued uncertainty

14 February 2003

The continuing political uncertainty in Côte d'Ivoire has prompted an increasing number of the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Liberian refugees still caught in the fighting to seek immediate repatriation or evacuation to neighbouring countries. We have been pressing countries in West Africa to accommodate Liberian refugees who cannot return to Liberia, but so far, there have been no positive responses.

In the meantime, over the past two days, there had been demonstrations at our office in Abidjan by Liberian women and children demanding that they be evacuated immediately. They say they were harassed by combatants and by host populations.

Around 10,000 of the refugees in Côte d'Ivoire are either in Abidjan or in Nicla camp outside Guiglo and the Tabou area, both in south-western Côte d'Ivoire, who are demanding immediate evacuation.

Organized repatriation from Tabou in Côte d'Ivoire to Liberia has been going on. Today, we are ferrying 100 Liberian returnees across a frontier river amid continuing gunfire to Liberia, bringing the total assisted returns to around 2,200. There have been spontaneous returns by Liberians from Côte d'Ivoire as well, along with a flood of Ivorian refugees and immigrant workers, mostly from Burkina Faso and Mali, into Liberia. Since unrest broke out in Côte d'Ivoire five months ago, some 88,000 people - 35,000 Ivorian refugees, 43,000 Liberian returnees and the rest immigrant workers have gone into Liberia. Many of these immigrants are in transit. They could not proceed to their home countries because of insecurity. They are in bad shape and UNHCR has been helping them because no other agency is around to give them a hand.

Complicating the problems caused by instability in Côte d'Ivoire is the continuing instability in Liberia itself. Over the past week, intensified fighting in northern Liberia has prompted an influx of Liberian refugees into Sierra Leone. On Thursday, 1,800 Liberian refugees were reported to have crossed into the Sierra Leone border towns of Gendema and Sulima. Several thousand more were reported to be on their way to Sierra Leone.