On the second day of her month-long mission to the region, Carolyn McAskie, Humanitarian Envoy of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, met with government leaders and stressed the importance of the government's role in the provision of emergency relief to those in need regardless of their location.
She also reminded the Government of its responsibilities to protect civilians, including some one million internally displaced persons, the 50,000 Liberian refugees living in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as the humanitarian personnel working to bring aid to vulnerable populations.
The scale of displacement in Côte d'Ivoire is massive and increasing rapidly. Out of a population of 16 million, an estimated 600,000 were displaced internally by the end of November, according to an update issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Fighting in the west has since forced the displacement of perhaps an additional 500,000. The total number of IDPs topped 1.1 million by the beginning of January. In addition, over 23,000 Ivorian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, and 129,000 third-country nationals are retuning home to neighbouring Liberia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana.
For a further assessment of the situation of many of the people displaced by the violence, Ms. McAskie will tomorrow visit shantytowns in Abidjan.
Meanwhile, using canoes and buses, staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are set to begin the repatriation of thousands of frightened Liberian refugees from western Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR has requested a police security escort following days of negotiations with local villages for safe passage. The return will require five buses to transport 100 Liberians 30 kilometres to the Cavaly River - which forms the border between the two countries - where the canoes will be waiting to ferry them first across.
According to a UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, nearly 2,400 Liberian refugees have registered at the agency's office in the town of Tabou over the past three days. "They include 850 who had fled into the compound earlier this month to escape growing tensions with the local population, and hundreds of others who came from surrounding villages upon hearing of the return operation," Kris Janowski said.