The United Nation refugee agency today appealed to rival groups in Côte d’Ivoire to support efforts to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid to those affected by the post-election turmoil and avoid putting civilians at risk.
As of yesterday, the unrest in the West African country has displaced between 200,000 and 300,000 people in the country’s commercial capital, Abidjan, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Another 70,000 inhabitants of the country’s western region have fled their homes and crossed over into neighbouring Liberia as a result of violence, with half of those arriving since 24 February.
Today the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $6 million to help those who are seeking refuge in Liberia as well as the communities hosting them.
Humanitarian and protection needs of civilians are growing fast with thousands of people across Abidjan having sought safety in community centres where living conditions are inadequate, Adrian Edwards, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Geneva told reporters.
In Abobo, a northern suburb of Abidjan, some 60 families remain trapped in a church and apparently prevented by fighters from leaving, according to Mr. Edwards. In the western region of the country, humanitarian access to people in need has been severely impeded by insecurity.
“The risks for civilians, including people of concern under UNHCR’s mandate, are also growing. 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,” said Mr. Edwards.
UNHCR has received reports from the Liberian Government and other partners that an additional 7,000 people have arrived in Liberia. “This sudden influx is placing enormous strains on local communities and abilities of aid organizations to help,” said Mr. Edwards.
In Buutuo, a town in eastern Liberia’s Nimba County, the water and sanitation situation is critical, with reported cases of diarrhoea and malaria, as well as food shortages.
Mr. Edwards said 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.”
Côte d’Ivoire has been beset by political uncertainty, with factional fighting and other forms of violence flaring up in Abidjan and the western region, since incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office after his UN-certified defeat by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in last November’s presidential election.