Côte d’Ivoire: UN continues repatriation of Liberian refugees as hostility mounts

Côte d’Ivoire: UN continues repatriation of Liberian refugees as hostility mounts

Liberian refugees leave Tabou on UNHCR return convoy
As the very volatile situation in Côte d’Ivoire persists, the United Nations refugee agency is continuing its emergency repatriation of Liberians and is planning new public awareness campaigns focusing on respect for asylum seekers.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that it has helped more than 1,500 Liberians return from Tabou in south-western Côte d’Ivoire to Liberia amidst the growing hostility they face from the local population.

UNHCR said it is also looking into repatriating Liberians stuck in villages further afield from Tabou, although it would require additional resources such as trucks and minibuses, as well as information to ensure that returns are voluntary. The transit centre in Tabou has been rehabilitated and fitted with a new water system and generator in order to accommodate refugees.

Meanwhile, in Abidjan where UNHCR already cares for over 1,000 refugees, mostly Liberian and Sierra Leonean origin, the agency said it is very concerned about the continued destruction of shantytowns. “Over the past week, we have received reports of armed men bursting into at least two poor districts at night, threatening residents and setting houses on fire,” UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie said in Geneva.

UNHCR is planning an awareness-raising campaign throughout Côte d'Ivoire, calling on the local population not to blame refugees for the current turmoil. Local artists will be hired to produce radio, television and street theatre shows explaining the particularly vulnerable situation of Liberian refugees. The campaign will also involve the production of T-shirts and posters.

In other news, the Secretary-General’s Humanitarian Envoy for the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, Carolyn McAskie, continued her assessment of the effect the population influx has had on host communities today in Guinea. The UN estimates that more than 50,000 Guineans have fled Côte d’Ivoire since violence erupted in September 2002. The Guinean Red Cross has also registered 15,000 persons of other African nationalities crossing the border into Guinea from Côte d’Ivoire. Ms. McAskie praised Guinea for its longstanding generosity in hosting the refugees.