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Côte d'Ivoire: Refugee evacuation plans setback

Briefing notes

Côte d'Ivoire: Refugee evacuation plans setback

10 December 2002

UNHCR is drawing up plans to evacuate thousands of refugees from conflict-torn Côte d'Ivoire once security and logistical arrangements can be worked out. An estimated 45,000 refugees were living in the west of the country, close to the border with Liberia before UNHCR lost contact with them two weeks ago. There are also 2,500 refugees in Abidjan who had either lost their makeshift accommodation in the city shantytowns which had been razed by the government or fear for their general safety.

UNHCR's efforts to draw up an evacuation plan suffered a setback on Sunday when Ivorian government forces destroyed a UNHCR river ferry in the south of the country by detonating three grenades wired to the boat. The ferry, which had been used in the past for the repatriation of Liberians across the Cavaly river, from Prollo to Pelebo in Liberia, could have been used to evacuate people to Liberia.

We were told that the ferry was destroyed to prevent potential future intrusion of rebels into Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR is very concerned about the incident which affects the ability of UN agencies to operate in a climate of safety and respect for the UN property guaranteed by various international agreements.

Meanwhile, people continue to flee from Côte d'Ivoire to the neighbouring countries, mostly to Liberia. Over the past 10 days 32,000 persons have crossed into Liberia. They including 22,000 Liberians forced to return by the fighting and 10,000 Ivorian nationals. The proportion of Ivorians fleeing to Liberia has increased in recent days. An estimated 4,000 people have also fled to Guinea.