Côte d'Ivoire + 3 more

UNHCR briefing notes: Côte d'Ivoire, Kosovo

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 31 January 2003, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Côte d'Ivoire: most operations now resumed

UNHCR has now resumed most of its operations in Côte d'Ivoire after a three-day suspension following unrest in Abidjan and general insecurity in the rest of the country last weekend. Since a partial resumption on Wednesday, another 235 Liberian refugees have been transported from Tabou, in western Côte d'Ivoire, across the Cavaly River to Liberia. Another 300 are scheduled to cross today, bringing to more than 1,400 the number of returns since the emergency return began on 17 January. In all, more than 1,700 refugees are still awaiting repatriation in the Tabou area. Many refugees, increasingly worried following recent developments in the country, have asked to be transported as quickly as possible to Liberia. Many are so desperate that they have asked UNHCR to simply arrange for free passage past several vigilante checkpoints on the 30-km stretch of road between Tabou and Prollo, a town on the Côte d'Ivoire side of the border river. They say they can do without immediate assistance on the Liberian side.

Hundreds of Liberian refugees, many of them chased from their homes by angry Ivorians who accuse them of siding with the rebels, have been stopped at the checkpoints in recent weeks and prevented from leaving the country. In one such incident this week, a group of 25 Liberian men was apprehended by young vigilantes at a church in Tabou, verbally abused and threatened with death. They were later released following the intervention of UNHCR and government refugee officials. The men will be repatriated by UNHCR, together with their families.

Refugees are still being targeted in various parts of the country and we remain very concerned about the general security situation.

Kosovo: Continued protection needed for some minorities

UNHCR has just published a new position paper on the continued need for international protection for some people from Kosovo, in particular members of Serb, Roma, and some other minorities. UNHCR believes the general situation in Kosovo has improved over the past year. But the security situation of minorities continues to be a major cause for concern. The level of risk varies according to the particular group and their location.

Specific problems still being encountered range from acute discrimination, marginalization and restricted freedom of movement to destruction of property and physical harassment, including grenade attacks, landmines, booby-traps, drive-by shootings and arson.

We stress that the return of members of these minorities from asylum countries should continue on a strictly voluntary basis. In addition, any such voluntary returns should be carefully coordinated, and returnees provided with assistance to enable them to reintegrate properly once they are back home in Kosovo. UNHCR explicitly opposes any forced or induced return of members of these minorities to Kosovo.

By contrast, the vast majority of Kosovo Albanians who fled during the 1999 crisis have returned home and few of them face individual protection problems. Nevertheless, the UNHCR paper outlines some categories who may face serious problems, including risks to their personal safety, were they to return home at this time.

See the UNHCR position paper and the assessment on which it is based in our Balkan pages here.