UNHCR concern as 5,000 Ivorians flee to Liberia to escape fresh conflict
MONROVIA, Liberia, February 25 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said Friday it was concerned about fresh violence in Côte d'Ivoire which has forced some 5,000 people to flee to eastern Liberia over a 24-hour period.
Until mid-week, UNHCR staff were seeing around 100 people crossing the border daily to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in November. But the number had soared after fresh conflict erupted in Abidjan and western Cote d'Ivoire in the past few days.
Concerned at the sudden and worrying rise in cross-border displacement, UNHCR has sent three teams to the crossing points at Buutuo, Gborplay and Luguatuo to assess their situation.
Local authorities said 5,000 people had crossed into Liberia on Thursday, when fighting near Danané in Côte d'Ivoire appears to have triggered displacement of people towards the border. With these new arrivals, the number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia is now approaching 45,000 people.
Meanwhile in the Côte d'Ivoire capital, Abidjan, UNHCR has monitored displacement in several neighbourhoods and the agency's teams are attempting assessments today.
UNHCR's main concern in the country is for the 39,000 internally displaced people in western Cote d'Ivoire, which borders Liberia. Insecurity has meant that UNHCR has not been able to operate in this part of the country for several days.
Work on a camp for displaced people in Duékoué - which was aimed at relieving pressure on a Catholic mission where 9,000 people have found refuge - has been placed on hold. Several villages on the axis Man-Duékoué are reportedly empty following the latest fighting.
"Even without the latest fighting, UNHCR believes the risk of displacement in western Côte d'Ivoire remains substantial," UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in Geneva in Friday. "A joint assessment mission with our partners last week found reports of attacks on travellers by armed roaming groups and organized gangs. The Duékoué-Man axis has been particularly dangerous," she added.
Several villages were attacked and houses razed in December and January. Parts of Duékoué have also been burned. With 23,000 internally displaced people (IDP), the town of Duékoué has been host to the highest number of displaced people in the region.
With host families already struggling to feed and accommodate guests, such people are particularly vulnerable. Some IDPs who escaped attacks on their villages are believed to be still living and sleeping in the bush. UNHCR has also recorded testimony from women who were raped during the ethnic conflict in Duékoué in early January.