UNHCR urges rival forces in Côte d'Ivoire to support humanitarian efforts
GENEVA, March 8 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday called on Côte d'Ivoire's warring rivals to support efforts to help people displaced by the latest fighting and to avoid placing civilian lives at risk.
As of Monday, at least 200,000 and possibly as many as 300,000 people were displaced in the commercial capital, Abidjan, as a result of the clashes between supporters of rival presidential candidates Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. Both men claim victory in November's election.
A further 70,000 people remain displaced in western Côte d'Ivoire, while a similar number have fled to neighbouring Liberia. Getting humanitarian access to these populations has been difficult due to the insecurity and poor infrastructure, but UNHCR and its partners have been able to distribute basic relief items to displaced people inside and outside Abidjan.
"The humanitarian and protection needs are growing fast," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. "Thousands of people across Abidjan remain holed up in community centres where conditions are inadequate and where protection needs have not been properly assessed."
He said that some 60 families in Abidjan's flashpoint northern suburb of Abobo remained trapped in a church and were apparently prevented by fighters from leaving. Many families are also reportedly trapped in their homes in Abobo and the Anyama district, too afraid to leave but in need of food and medicine.
In western Côte d'Ivoire, humanitarian access has been severely impeded by insecurity and thousands of displaced people are almost entirely without help.
UNHCR and its partners, including the World Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Committee for the Red Cross, have been trying to assess the need and whereabouts of the internally displaced.
"The risks for civilians, including people of concern under UNHCR's mandate, are also growing," Edwards said. "Persistent reports that Liberian mercenaries are being brought in to join the fighting is fuelling distrust. This in turn is creating risks for the 24,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire," he added.
In eastern Liberia, UNHCR has so far registered some 75,000 refugees, of whom around half have arrived since February 24 after fresh fighting flared in western Côte d'Ivoire. Government sources and UNHCR partners say another 7,000 people have crossed the border but not yet registered.
"This sudden influx is placing enormous strains on local communities and the ability of aid organizations to help," Edwards said. In the town of Buutuo, in eastern Liberia's Nimba County, the water and sanitation situation has become critical, with reported cases of diarrhoea and malaria, and food shortages.
UNHCR and its partners have been working to rehabilitate bridges and roads to improve access. We have also been providing direct support where we can to refugees and the communities around them.