Tensions in Côte d'Ivoire affect UNHCR refugee registration
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, Mar. 3 (UNHCR) - The U.N. refugee agency is limiting staff movements in western and northern Côte d'Ivoire following clashes on Monday between pro-government militias and rebels in Logouale, 15 km from the western town of Man.
The outbreak of fighting is causing some disruption to a UNHCR census of Liberian refugees which began in the rebel-controlled north on February 21. The census exercise is continuing at the Nicla refugee camp, 7 km from the town of Guiglo in the west of the country. UNHCR has an office in Guiglo. But the restrictions on staff movement in the region mean the refugee agency will temporarily hold off on registration activities in the border districts of Ben-Houyen, Zouan-Hounien, Blolequin and Toulépleu, where some 10,000 Liberian refugees are settled in various villages.
The census registration is aimed at updating refugee information and providing refugees with identity documents certifying their status. A lack of valid documentation in a conflict environment can subject refugees to harassment or suspicion of membership of one or other of the fighting forces.
While calm has returned in the aftermath of Monday's fighting, UNHCR remains concerned by the continued tensions in western Côte d'Ivoire. The security of some 17,000 Liberian refugees could be at risk if the situation deteriorates. In 2003, Liberian refugees had to be evacuated to Abidjan, the commercial capital, to rescue them from fierce fighting in the west.
In Nicla camp, many refugees have expressed anxiety at the renewed hostilities and want UNHCR to enhance security in and around the camp. The refugee agency is holding consultations with other U.N. partners and local authorities on additional measures to make the camp more secure.
In all, there are an estimated 70,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire who are mainly settled in the west and in the Tabou region in the south.
In New York, a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday expressed concern over the recent escalation of serious incidents in and around the Zone of Confidence in Côte d'Ivoire. He said Mr. Annan urged the parties to rein in all militia groups and to avoid any steps which could contribute to the deterioration of the situation on the ground.
By Fatoumata Kaba
UNHCR Côte d'Ivoire