ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, March 21 (UNHCR) – Thousands of Ivorians have been flocking to Abidjan’s main bus terminals, hoping to board the first available vehicles out of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital following what they perceived as a call to war over the weekend.
On Monday morning and over the weekend, UNHCR monitors saw thousands of people trying to leave from Adjame and Yopougon bus terminals, the two largest in Abidjan. Many families slept there in order to make sure they get seats.
Some of them told UNHCR monitors they were leaving Abidjan because of an appeal made on Saturday by youth leader Charles Blé Goudé for civilians to join the ranks of the armed forces loyal to presidential candidate Laurent Gbago on Monday. Reportedly thousands of youth have responded to this appeal, which those fleeing viewed as a call for war.
The bus terminals were already crowded with families seeking to leave the southern city in the wake of last week’s heavy and spreading violence, the worst Abidjan has witnessed since the post-election crisis started in late November. Gbagbo and his presidential rival, Alassane Ouattara, both claim victory.
The cost of transportation at the volatile start of this week has increased sharply, possibly tripled, according to a humanitarian partner whose staff have received requests from internally displaced people (IDPs) to help them leave Abidjan.
It’s estimated that more than 300,000 people have been displaced in Abidjan. They fled mainly from Abobo, the city’s northernmost district which has been the scene of fierce fighting for weeks.
Many IDPs are heading to the north and east of the country. Some families who made it there told UNHCR staff by phone that the situation was becoming increasingly difficult for them and the families hosting them. One displaced person near the national capital of Yamassoukro said that impoverished host families in the north desperately need assistance, and cannot cope with the increasing numbers of IDPs who continue to arrive.
Most humanitarian organizations work in Abidjan and in the western part of the country.
Meanwhile in the western region, UNHCR and its partners have completed work on a first IDP site in the town of Danane. Over the weekend, 778 displaced people were relocated to the site from a nearby primary school at Dioulabougou. Two other IDP sites are being rehabilitated in Danane, where an estimated 5,000 people were displaced by violence earlier this year.
The Ivorian crisis is also affecting some 24,000 Liberian refugees who have been living in Abidjan for nearly two decades. Some of them have signed up for repatriation to Liberia and the first UNHCR-organized airlift of 171 returnees took place last Saturday.