Attempts to resettle refugees away from fighting in Côte d’Ivoire rebuffed – UN agency
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reiterated concern for the security of tens of thousands of mostly Liberian refugees in the volatile western part of Côte d’Ivoire after attempts to evacuate nearly 5,000 of them from a camp near the front lines were rebuffed.
UNHCR staff had worked throughout the past month to move the refugees from Nicla and had approached the people of Grand Lahou, a town on the Atlantic coast in the southern part of the country, spokesman Kris Janowski said. But the people of the town cited overall security concerns and rejected the idea, leaving the UN agency “scrambling to find alternatives,” he said.
New attacks Monday on French positions, as well as in Grabo, farther south near Tabou, brought the fighting closer to Nicla, the only camp run by UNHCR in Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Janowski said, further increasing fears among the refugee population about a possible attack as rebels move southwards.
Nicla initially had a population of about 5,000 refugees who were considered particularly vulnerable because of their ethnicity. The camp's population is believed to have grown in recent weeks as other refugees from the surrounding villages sought safety in the camp. “While the Nicla refugees are our most immediate concern,” Mr. Janowski said, “the volatile situation in western Côte d'Ivoire has made it imperative that we move the entire refugee population in the country – some 70,000 people before the crisis first erupted in September – to safer locations.”
UNHCR continued to appeal to neighbouring countries to grant temporary asylum to some groups of Liberian refugees presently in Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Janowski said. “We are also continuing our search for alternative sites within Côte d'Ivoire itself, while trying to obtain better security for refugees in their current areas of settlement.”