Côte d'Ivoire: Significant numbers arriving in south-west
Refugees continued arriving in the south-west of Côte d'Ivoire over the weekend after fleeing Liberia following the rebel takeover of Mariland County just over a week ago. Refugees are continuing to cross in significant numbers at 13 border crossings. The total number of new arrivals is now well over 15,000.
In one village, Yeoli, north of Prollo on the Cavaly River, some 1,300 new arrivals have been reported in the past week. During the week, shelling could be heard on the Liberian side across the border from Yeoli. In another small village near Nero, to which UNHCR does not have access, some 500 new arrivals were reported yesterday. There are several other villages further to the north that are likely to have received significant numbers of arrivals, but UNHCR has so far not been able to travel to any of them.
In the Ivorian town of Tabou, our transit centre is presently housing over 2,400 people, although it was initially built for 700. Most of the other arrivals have made their way into rural villages where they are believed to be integrating with the local population. The new arrivals consist of Liberians, Ivorian returnees unable to return to their place of origin, and so-called "third country nationals" - West Africans who had been living in Côte d'Ivoire and had initially fled to Liberia in the wake of the Ivorian conflict. The most recent arrivals said they fled Liberia in advance of the latest fighting.
On Thursday last week, UNHCR started distributing hundreds of mats, blankets, plastic sheeting, soap and jerry cans to the village chiefs at the major crossing points in appreciation of their willingness to accept refugees. Some relief items are also being distributed at the Tabou transit centre. UNHCR will also start distributing assistance to refugees who have integrated in rural villages to help alleviate the pressure put on these villages by the new arrivals.
The Ivorian government and UNHCR are discussing the possibility of building a refugee camp in Tabou for those refugees who remain in town. Meanwhile, a training centre operated by German agency GTZ will be used as a temporary transit centre. The Ivorian government has also requested that we transport and assist returning Ivorians at a separate transit centre.
Meanwhile, we have also started a large-scale verification exercise in our 10 facilities across the country (8 transit centres in Abidjan, Nicla camp in Guiglo and Tabou transit centre), in an attempt to review the total number of refugees presently assisted in those centres. Some 72,000 Liberian refugees were registered before the crisis erupted in Côte d'Ivoire last September. A few months later, UNHCR had estimated that about 35,000 Liberian refugees remained in the country, while more than 40,000 had fled back to Liberia. This constantly evolving situation has meant that the exact number of refugees today is unknown, thus necessitating a verification exercise.