Hundreds of Ivorians have been killed and thousands more displaced in fighting in the north, centre and west of the Ivory Coast since September 2002 after a failed attempted coup. Some 2,500 French troops are currently in Ivory Coast enforcing an uneasy cease-fire. This was signed by the government and the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI) on 17th October 2002. The MPCI currently controls about half the country - mainly the north and centre, with its stronghold in Bouake. Since that agreement was signed, cease-fire violations on both sides have continued to exacerbate the humanitarian situation in the country. Recently fresh hopes for peace have returned as two rebel groups1 operating in the west of Ivory Coast have now signed a truce with the government to end the fighting. Official peace talks, facilitated by the French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, started in Paris on 15th January 2003.
The Ivory Coast has long been considered an oasis of stability and prosperity in the impoverished West African region. Abidjan is the financial capital of Francophone West Africa and the Ivory Coast's economy is more than four times the size of its neighbours' Mali and Burkina Faso. The Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer. Its economic success has attracted large numbers of migrant workers to its cocoa, coffee, and tropical fruit plantations. There are an estimated five million non-Ivorian Africans working in the country, many of whom support whole families in poorer countries. The current crisis comes at a time when African leaders are trying to attract more foreign investment by displaying the stability and development of their countries. The threat to Ivory Coast's stability can thus be seen to be a threat to the whole region.
Since the fighting began, an estimated 400,000 persons have fled central and northern regions of Ivory Coast towards the south. Many have sought refuge in cities such as Yamoussoukro and Abidjan. All public services, commercial businesses, schools and health centres are closed in areas of the north held by the MPCI. Between 60,000 and 100,000 people have fled the Man region in the west to seek refuge in cities such as Daloa, Duekoue, Bouafle and Issia. Destruction, terror and vandalism have characterised the zones occupied by the rebel groups in the west of the country. Fighting between these groups and government forces have forced large numbers of people to be displaced, among them groups of refugees drawn largely from Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as host communities from Man, Danane and Guiglo towards Abidjan and beyond into Liberia and Guinea. Liberian refugees in particular are at risk of being targeted by Liberian mercenaries fighting with rebel forces in Ivory Coast.
As a result of the conflict the health sector is in a critical state, particularly in and around the war zones. Hospitals in rebel held areas are depleted of supplies and of staff. Food aid is needed in cities such as Bouake and for displaced persons on the move in Daloa, Duekoue and Yamoussoukro. It is envisaged that the food situation will deteriorate as the next harvest is expected by mid-March and is likely to be disrupted. Most schools in rebel held areas are closed. The government is making provisions, which would allow displaced children in government-held areas to attend school. However, schools in government held areas experience difficulties in accommodating displaced children and only a fraction of eligible children are expected to be enrolled in the programme.
Key Issues for Children
- Fighting has forced children and their
families to leave their homes.
- Many children have little or no access
to food stocks and basic services such as water, sanitation and healthcare.
- As a result of the recent conflict,
children have become separated from their families.
- Street children and children separated
from their families are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and
- Children's education has been disrupted.
- Recurrent reports mention children being recruited into fighting forces and vigilante groups.
Since September 2002 SC UK has been working with Save Sweden to consolidate its response to the current crisis in Ivory Coast and the sub region. The organisations have been involved in training; work with separated children; refugee children and their families; and education initiatives. The following activities have been undertaken and are ongoing:
Four teams have been set up, comprised of Save the Children, the Ministry of Solidarity, Health and Social Security, and other NGO staff to work in four areas: refugee transit centres, shanty towns, and children's centres in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro.
Save the Children has undertaken training of government and non-government organisation staff in rapid assessment skills and community mobilisation skills.
Community volunteers are being trained to run educational and recreational activities, and to work with children.
Save the Children has been liasing with the International Red Cross over issues relating to separated children. SC has also been designing a tracking system for children who are relocated with carers from the transit centres in Yamoussoukro.
Save the Children staff in the Refugee Zone in western Ivory Coast continue to work in family tracing, including sensitisation on the prevention of separation with community based organisations and reporting on the security situation for foreigners and refugees. Based on SC UK's experience in Liberia, prevention of separation posters have been designed and are being distributed in selected centres in the refugee zone and in Yamoussoukro Prefecture.
Save the Children has established children's recreational and educational clubs in Yamoussoukro and in all of the UNHCR transit centres, as well as a number of sites and shantytowns around Abidjan.
Save the Children has prepared a three-month proposal for education work with children who currently have no access to schools.
Save the Children continues to work with UNHCR to screen refugee children who are being repatriated to Sierra Leone and to Liberia.
Emergencies Section, 23rd January, 2003
1 MJP (Movement for Justice and Peace) and MPIGO (Popular Ivorian Movement for the Great West)