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Côte d'Ivoire: emergency repatriation continues

Briefing notes

Côte d'Ivoire: emergency repatriation continues

4 February 2003

The emergency repatriation of Liberian refugees from Tabou in south-western Côte d'Ivoire continues despite a very volatile situation in Abidjan itself. To date, UNHCR has helped more than 1,500 Liberians return from Tabou to Liberia amid growing hostility the refugees are presently facing in Côte d'Ivoire.

UNHCR is also looking into moving back to Liberia refugees stuck in villages further afield from Tabou who are also asking to leave. This, however, would require some additional arrangements such as finding trucks and minibuses to pick up the refugees in the villages. It would also require an information campaign to ensure that the returns are voluntary.

Meanwhile, the transit centre in Tabou has been rehabilitated and fitted with a new water system and generator in order to accommodate refugees awaiting departure and those who simply want protection from the hostile local population but do not want to return to Liberia because of the security situation there.

In Abidjan, UNHCR is very concerned about the continued destruction of shantytowns. Over the past week, we have received reports of armed men bursting into at least two poor districts at night, threatening residents and setting houses on fire.

So far, this has not caused more refugees to come to our office for assistance, but it is definitely causing more displacement among locals and nationals of other countries. In Abidjan, UNHCR already cares for over 1,000 refugees of mostly Liberian and Sierra Leonean origin who lost their homes during earlier razing of shantytowns.

UNHCR is planning an awareness campaign in the whole of Côte d'Ivoire, focusing on respect for refugees and calling on the local population not to blame them for the current turmoil. Some local artists, TV and radio performers, as well as street theatres will be hired to produce shows explaining the particularly vulnerable situation of Liberian refugees. The campaign will also involve the production of T - shirts and posters conveying the message that refugees should not be equated with rebels.