The IRC's West Africa regional director, Robert Warwick, and program advocate Anike Buche, held meetings Wednesday at Congress, the State Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and called for more diplomatic activity to support peace talks in Paris between the Abidjan government and rebel groups.
They also appealed for greater humanitarian assistance, saying aid organizations are struggling to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations.
"If the peace talks falter, we'll be dealing with the potential for an escalation in the fighting and greater population displacement, and will require considerable additional funds," Warwick said.
IRC background paper on Côte d'Ivoire emergency
Presented to House and Senate Sub-Committees
January 22, 2003
The conflict began in September with a failed coup attempt in Abidjan led by members of a group called the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI). However, during the fighting, the MPCI was able to take control of major towns in the north of the country, ultimately seizing Bouaké and most of the north.
Two months later, two new rebel groups, the Movement for Justice and Peace (MPJ) and the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West (MPIGO), attacked government forces in the western part of the country. They managed to destabilize the western borders with Guinea and Liberia and were stopped only when French troops intervened. Due to the presence of French troops, the western rebels shifted their attacks to the southern coastal region. In response to heavy fighting around Tabou, hundreds of Liberians and Ivorians fled into the southern Liberian counties of Maryland and Grand Gedeh.
Source of Conflict:
Muslim North and Christian/Animist South tensions have intensified in recent years. These tensions have been exacerbated by apparent favoritism shown by the current government of Laurent Gbagbo towards his compatriots from the south.
Adding to the complexities of the conflict, xenophobia has also intensified throughout Côte d'Ivoire due in part to worsening economic conditions and increased competition for employment. d'Ivoire's long history of welcoming foreigners from the region (over 25% of the total population) has declined in recent years and the Gbagbo Government has attempted to gain political favor by harassing and demolishing foreign resident shanty towns in and around Abidjan.
Accurate numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee outflows have been particularly difficult to gather due to the difficulty in determining who are residents, foreign economic migrants or refugees. There are 4.3 million economic migrants in the country originating from Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
There are over 70,000 known Liberian refugees mainly in western Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR has stated that approximately 35,000 Liberian refugees are at extreme risk and must be shifted from the western border area.
By various estimates there are anywhere from 350,000 to over 1.0 million IDPs currently in Côte d'Ivoire. There are over 150,000 persons who have crossed into neighboring countries seeking safe haven. Of these, nearly 61,000 have fled into Liberia.
No one knows for sure how many Ivorian troops or rebel troops are currently engaged in the fighting. There are at least 2,500 French troops and over 1,000 ECOMOG (Economic Community West African States Monitoring Group) Peacekeepers from neighboring countries in Côte d'Ivoire.
Current Status of Conflict:
Peace talks hosted by France began in Paris on January 15. All members to the conflict, as well as other opposition parties are participating in the talks. Most of the participants are calling for the removal of President Gbagbo and for holding new, fair, democratic elections.
The UNHCR and UN/OCHA are the primarily coordinators of assistance. The UNHCR has had a special appeal for Liberian refugees and for the Ivorian crisis. The United States government has responded to these, including a drawdown of funds from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) account for the Ivorian appeal. If the peace talks falter, there is fear of extended fighting and greater population displacements, which will require considerable additional funds.
IRC's Emergency Coordinator completed a four -week assessment in Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Guinea. The Emergency Environmental Health Coordinator is currently on another mission in Côte d'Ivoire and the region to determine the water and sanitation needs for the refugee populations. A second Emergency Coordinator will join the Emergency Health Coordinator within a week. Assessments include the areas of Liberia/Cóte d'Ivoire border (from Liberia), Guinea/ Côte d'Ivoire border (from Guinea), shanty towns in Abidjan (jointly with the Save the Children Fund), along with the current assessment of Yamoussoukro and points due east.
IRC Liberia has established emergency health clinics along the Liberia border in Nimba County to assist Ivorians and Liberians fleeing the fighting.
IRC Guinea has begun assisting Ivorian refugees with emergency education near Nzerekore.
IRC programs have been funded by the UNHCR and from IRC funds. There remains a great need and the IRC will work with the international organizations and the United States government when they have completed their own assessment to expand the current programs.