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Regional emergency plan set up.

Briefing notes

Regional emergency plan set up.

29 September 2002

UNHCR is planning to organise this week the repatriation by airlift of some 40 Sierra Leonean refugees made homeless during the recent turmoil in Abidjan. These Sierra Leoneans, along with hundreds of Liberians, have been assisted since 19 September in five different sites in Abidjan.

UNHCR remains very concerned that the razing of shanty towns is continuing in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, causing the displacement of ever more Ivorians, immigrants and refugees. Despite an announcement by President Gbagbo on 8 October that the clean-up operation would be restricted to areas surrounding military installations, other shanty towns have since been destroyed.

We understand the government's security concerns, but are appealing to the authorities to minimise displacement and identify alternative and secure sites for those made homeless by the destruction. The money used by UNHCR to assist some 1,000 people in five sites was initially set aside for integration projects for over 70,000 refugees in the west of the country this year. Now, these projects will not be carried out.

As part of the humanitarian effort to address any possible future emergency in the West Africa region, UNHCR has reviewed its level of preparedness and evaluated what type of assistance it would be able to provide various groups displaced or in transit, both within Côte d'Ivoire and in the region. So far, however, only small movements have been reported across neighbouring borders, mainly of Malian, Ghanaian, Guinean or Niger citizens returning to their countries. There is also a group of 1,800 Ivorian refugees temporarily sheltered in Mali. Four hundred of them are civil servants who will have to be transferred to another site inland. There have been some incorrect press reports that UNHCR had been helping or would help nationals of neighbouring countries to return home. We are not, because we are in no position to assist non-refugee nationals of other countries to return to their country of origin. We are mainly concerned about the possibility of Ivorians seeking asylum in neighbouring countries. We're also worried that large numbers of Liberian refugees could spontaneously return to areas of Liberia which are largely inaccessible, or that they might seek asylum in a third country. There are presently more than 72,000 registered refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, most of them from Liberia and about 2,000 from Sierra Leone.

Staff are being deployed to Burkina Faso and Mali to monitor the situation and initiate protection and assistance measures for persons under UNHCR's mandate. We are also planning to establish a regional stockpile in Accra with sufficient items for up to 20,000 people; similar to the one we have in Ngara, Tanzania, for the East, Horn and Great Lakes region.