Scores of non-Ivorian nationals seek refuge
ABIDJAN, Sept 30 (AFP) - About 160 Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Congolese nationals have been given refuge by international relief agencies at a home in Abidjan, where they have been holed up since an uprising on September 19, blamed by some on a rising tide of xenophobia.
Many of the 163 asylum seekers, whose numbers keep increasing, said their shacks in Abidjan's sprawling shanty towns had been set alight days after the military uprising and that they had nowhere else to go.
They are being accommodated at a home in a residential neighbourhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast's main city, run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner organisation, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The lawns of the residence are covered in drying clothes and bedding, its courtyard buzzing with young women washing their dishes in blue plastic basins.
Forlorn, some young men sit around play scrabble, while others in a bid to keep the place as comfortable as possible, have set about empting the swimming pool, "because it draws too many mosquitoes", said one of them.
As they gradually adapt to a new and difficult way of life, the refugees have organised themselves into committees, each representing a different nationality, and each with its own spokesman, so as to avoid disputes, and arrange kitchen rotas, so that everyone gets a fair chance to prepare and enjoy a meal - usually sardines, rice and bread.
Botello, a bespectacled 31-year-old with a neatly pressed shirt, told how he had come to the west African nation all the way from Kasai in the war ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arriving in the country on September 12.
A week later, he said, the home in which he was living in the poverty stricken Agban township was burned down.
"Where can one go?" asked another Congolese refugee, Jean-Robert, who has lived in Abidjan for the past two years.
"I have two children, my wife has passed away, and our home was burned down because the gendarmes thought we were hiding rebels.
"We have never interefered in Ivorian affairs, but each time there are problems, they always go for the foreigners," he said.
But Dio, 34, who fled civil war in neighbouring Liberia said: "I have never felt hatred for the Ivorians. They accepted us and are kind to us."
He told how he had arrived in the former french colony in 1990 with his father who had received death threats.
He said he had no problems fitting in in Ivory Coast and had worked for a long time in cassava fields with Ivorians of his own Yacouba tribe.
Yet when questioned about his future, he said, because of "xenophobia towards foreigners" he hoped to be evacuated to Europe.
Inside the residence, dozens of mattresses were lined up along a spotlessly clean floor with fans going in the mens' dormitory. In the womens' section, crying and coughing babies lay with their mothers.
Officials said the residence now accommodates 25 children up to five and below, and 40 aged from 6 to 17. Most of whom were at school before the uprising.
David Coomber, the IOM representative in Abidjan, said, however, that these residents of the home were lucky ones, "because many refugee families are sleeping the streets and are extremely vulnerable".
"If the situation gets worse, given that this place can only accommodate 200 people, we are going to have find land in Abidjan for a new refugee centre" he said.
A Togolese refugee looked up from some paperwork he was doing and explained that he was surveying the health needs of the home's new residents, and said it had been found that "diarrhea brought on by fear" was the most common ailment among them.
A sad looking young man said: "Madame, we are tired of war."
Copyright (c) 2002 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 09/30/2002 11:57:02
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