Côte d'Ivoire + 4 more

Situation in Côte d'Ivoire to deteriorate further if peace proves elusive

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United Nations, 12 February 2003 - Since the signing of the Linas-Marcoussis Accord in Paris, a steady stream of protests and riots have rocked Abidjan, while on Tuesday 4 February, fighting in the west was reported for the first time since the January 24th signing of the peace accord. New skirmishes between rebel and Government forces in and around Toulepleu, about 650 km northwest of Abidjan, near the border with Liberia, have been reported on Sunday 9, Monday 10, and Tuesday 11 February 2003.
Access to the west of the country remains one of the most pressing concerns facing the humanitarian aid community. The zone along the border with Liberia extending roughly from the coastal town of Tabou, north to the towns of Man, Toulepleu, Danane, and Touba remains highly insecure. Recent weeks have also seen an inordinate increase in the number of civilian checkpoints throughout Government-controlled territory, manned by "patriotic youth" who impede passage of Liberian refugees and reportedly harass and extort travelers, especially third country nationals. The complete interruption of all administrative functions, including banking, in rebel-held areas since September 2002 is causing a crippling lack of cash flow, especially in the north, and the continued paralysis of health services. There is a heightened risk of epidemics such as cholera, and yellow fever, and the difficulty of conducting vaccination campaigns for populations in the north as well as for displaced populations in the south is worrying. According to the joint FAO/WFP Food Aid Needs and Crop Assessment, the food security situation will become alarming in as little as two-months unless a peaceful solution to the crisis is found.

The destruction of shantytowns in Abidjan has continued despite a direct appeal by the UN Humanitarian Envoy Carolyn McAskie to President Gbagbo that such destruction stop. Threats, beatings and violence during nocturnal visits by armed men in uniform have been reported to NGOs and directly to OCHA by residents some shantytowns, while Third country nationals, notably Burkinabe, continue to report harassment by local security forces in Abidjan.

The security situation of some 30,000 Liberian refugees remaining in Côte d'Ivoire, including approximately 7,000 in Nicla camp, remains critical, amid a general perception among Ivorians that all Liberians pose a security threat. Liberian refugees have been impeded from fleeing violence in the west by civilian checkpoints. UNHCR has conducted emergency repatriation of over 1,780 stranded and targeted Liberian refugees as of 7 February 2003. Some of about 1,000 frightened Liberians who had sought refuge in the UNHCR office compound in the coastal town Tabou, in southwestern Côte d'Ivoire, have now been transferred to a newly rehabilitated center while shelter is being provided for Liberians who are not registered. In Abidjan, UNHCR cares for over 1,000 refugees mostly of Liberian and Sierra Leonean origin who lost their homes during razing of shantytowns in Abidjan.

In various parts of the country, UN agencies, NGOs and the ICRC carry out a range of assistance activities including food distributions, medical support, supply of non-food items, safe drinking water, sanitation interventions, monitoring of military and civil detainees in correctional facilities, and the tracking of separated families.

UNICEF estimates, based on trends through late January 2003, that another 500,000 people, 80% of whom will be women and children, may be forced to leave Côte d'Ivoire over the next 12 months should the situation not stabilize.

In the region, as of 5 February 2003, 26,891 Ivorian refugees, 40,507 Liberian returnees and 7,373 third country nationals (an estimated 4,000 of them Burkinabe) have entered Liberia as a result of the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. The security situation at the border areas has deteriorated following recent fighting in Toulepleu, in western Côte d'Ivoire. In order to respond to the situation, UNHCR has agreed with the Government to open new camps far from the border.

Since 19 September 2002, it is estimated that over 40,000 people have transited through Ghana. UNICEF expects that by the end of 2003 approximately 240,000 people will transit through Ghana for Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and other countries in the sub-region. Due to the ubiquitous civilian checkpoints along the route from Abidjan to the southern Elubo border with Ghana, some third-country nationals fear that they will arrive at the border completely stripped of any money they have managed to save as well as their few possessions. UNICEF reports that many, especially children, arrive at the border extremely fatigued and in a poor state of health.

Burkina Faso is among the most affected countries in the sub-region due to the presence of its approximately three million citizens in Côte d'Ivoire. The Government of Burkina Faso estimates that over 60,000 nationals have returned since 19 September 2002. UNICEF estimates that the number of returnees could climb as high as 125,000 should current trends continue.

As a result of the recent wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guinea already plays host to some 100,000 refugees. Liberian refugees continue to enter Guinea on a daily basis. As of 31 January 2003, some 52,000 Guineans have returned to Guinea, according to the Service National d'Action Humanitaire (SENAH) and the Guinean Red Cross. UNHCR reports that some 2,752 Ivorian refugees are currently residing in Nonah camp, and the Guinean Red Cross has registered the entry of 10,779 Ivorians at entry points along the border. Some of these have already transited through Conakry to Abidjan or elsewhere. Some 5,106 Liberian refugees have arrived from Côte d'Ivoire since the eruption of the crisis, and the Guinean Red Cross has registered some 10,970 persons of other African nationalities, crossing the border into Guinea with the intent of transiting.

Mali's economy is intimately tied to that of Côte d'Ivoire, more than 70% of its exports having flowed through Ivorian ports, and more than 2 million Malians having lived and worked in Côte d'Ivoire before the crisis began. UNICEF reports that since the start of the crisis, Malians have been subjected to ethnically-based violence and human rights abuses in Côte d'Ivoire, in part fostered by economic hardships and politically-inspired disenfranchisement. Since 19 September, some 23,189 Malians have returned from Côte d'Ivoire, and at least 3,000 other African nationals have entered to transit through, according to a 30 December 2002 estimate by the Government of Mali. As of 22 January 2003, UNHCR had registered 832 Ivorian refugees in Mali.

Carolyn McAskie, the UN Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for the Crisis in Côte d'Ivoire ended her mission in West Africa on 10 February 2003, in Mali. She has appealed to donors to be generous in supporting humanitarian interventions in Côte d'Ivoire, and in aiding neighboring countries in coping with the social, economic, and humanitarian effects that the crisis is having on them. The Humanitarian Envoy stressed that the international community must not lose sight of the gravity of the ongoing crisis and its regional implications for the whole of West Africa if new conflicts should emerge elsewhere in the world.

For more information please contact:

Mr. Jeff Brez, Information Officer OCHA-RSOWA
Office: +225-2240-5174 (direct)
Cell: +225-07-428248
E-mail: jeff@ocha.ci

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.