As political deadlock continues, UN steps up aid to uprooted Ivorians

15 February 2011
Workers unload UNHCR aid for Côte d’Ivoire’s displaced at Robertsfield International Airport in Liberia

The United Nations refugee agency has begun setting up a new camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in western Côte d’Ivoire who fled their homes as a result of violence and uncertainty related to the current post-election political crisis in the West African country.

“Humanitarian conditions have deteriorated with the shortage of shelter and our hope is that the new camp will ease pressure, in particular for the most vulnerable,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva. The agency has so far registered a total of 38,600 IDPs in western Côte d’Ivoire.

Ms. Fleming said the new camp is located near the town of Duékoué, and will accommodate up to 6,000 people, easing crowding at a nearby Roman Catholic mission where many of the IDPs are accommodated. Heavy rainfall last week destroyed a number of makeshift shelters in the mission compound prompting UNHCR to provide tents to some of the displaced families.

Many of the IDPs have been surviving on the generosity of local families and charities. In Danané, Binhouye and Zouan-Hounien districts, more than 8,600 IDPs are staying with local families, some of whom are sheltering up to 25 people each and struggling to make ends meet.

Most of those displaced in western Côte d’Ivoire fled their homes in mid-December and early January as a result of ethnic tension and violence sparked by the presidential elections held in November.

The country has been in turmoil since early December when outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office despite opposition leader Alassane Ouattara’s UN-certified victory in the run-off poll. Mr. Ouattara has been recognized by the international community as the duly elected president.

In Duékoué, the IDPs told UNHCR that they have no homes to go back to because their houses were torched and their property looted. Others alleged that they had been subjected to violence, including sexual assault, as well as arbitrary detention by armed groups acting with impunity.

Fear of retaliation, lack of law enforcement and dysfunctional judicial institutions have prevented many people from reporting abuses.

“UNHCR remains concerned that the political deadlock is causing widespread fear and, if not resolved, could result in displacement on a massive scale,” said Ms. Fleming.

Tension has also forced more people to move closer to the Liberian while others are crossing the border to seek asylum. UNHCR has registered 36,318 Ivorian refugees in Liberia so far.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 85 per cent of the Ivorian refugees in Liberia are women and children.

In some communities, especially those closest to the border, refugees outnumber local inhabitants, and residents are saying they cannot absorb more people. Severe food shortages and inadequate shelter are causing security concerns over the safety of the children and women. The risk of disease outbreaks remains a major humanitarian concern, according to Marixie Mercado, spokesperson for UNICEF.

In response to a measles outbreak that had killed five Liberian children in Nimba County, where 97 per cent of the refugees are hosted, UNICEF supported a vaccination campaign led by Liberian health ministry that reached 150,000 children – both refugees and Liberians – aged between six months and 16 years.

The campaign included malnutrition screening in areas with large refugee populations, Ms. Mercado told a news conference in Geneva, adding that 102 children, 52 of them refugees, were diagnosed as severely malnourished. They are being treated at UNICEF-supported nutrition facilities.

UNICEF, which is leading the water and sanitation humanitarian sector, has helped improve access to safe water for over 32,000 refugees and Liberians. The agency has also built 100 latrines and supported hygiene awareness in all of the affected communities. It has also distributed medicines to public health facilities and trained child protection officers.



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