UNHCR calls for open borders, urgent funds for Ivorian crisis
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, December 3 (UNHCR) - As fighting intensifies in parts of Côte d'Ivoire, the UN refugee agency has called on neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to people fleeing the looming humanitarian crisis. At the same time, it has appealed for urgent funds to cope with emergencies in the region.
"I urge all parties to exercise restraint. The situation in West Africa is already bad enough. We cannot afford to see more misery in the region," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers in a press statement Tuesday. "I appeal to all governments in the region to allow free passage to refugees and civilians fleeing violence."
According to UNHCR, there have so far been only isolated incidents of refugees being barred entry into a neighbouring country. But the agency fears that a worsening crisis in Côte d'Ivoire might prompt governments to close their borders in the event of massive outflows. It warned that if the conflict spreads further, refugees might be forced to join an exodus from Côte d'Ivoire along with millions of migrant workers from surrounding countries that are themselves impoverished and unstable.
Since fighting broke out on September 19, at least 26,000 refugees and civilians have left Côte d'Ivoire. Liberia alone has seen an influx of more than 20,000 returning refugees and 2,000 Ivorians, with about 400 people arriving daily since Friday. Most of them had fled heavy fighting that started Thursday in Danané, Man and Toulépleu, towns near the border with Liberia and Guinea that host some 45,000 refugees.
Since last week, UNHCR has been unable to establish contact with refugees in the Danané and Man region or to dispatch staff to the area due to the conflict.
On Monday, the Liberian government announced that it was sealing its border to outgoing movements as a "precautionary measure" to prevent rebels from entering Côte d'Ivoire. However, Liberia's Foreign Minister announced that his country remains open to civilians wanting to enter Liberia.
In Guinea, 820 refugees had been registered by Tuesday morning after fleeing from Côte d'Ivoire on Sunday. The majority are Liberians and Ivorians.
To cope with the crisis, UNHCR has appealed for $6.1 million in urgent funds to respond to emergencies in Côte d'Ivoire and neighbouring countries for three months. The agency has also deployed 13 staff members to the region.