Ivory Coast needs reconciliation for displaced people to return, says UNHCR


GENEVA, April 15 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has expressed alarm at the living conditions of internally displaced people (IDPs) in western Ivory Coast and called for reconciliation to allow them and Ivorian refugees in the region to return home.

An estimated 200,000 people are displaced in western Ivory Coast after over four months of post-election unrest. Insecurity prevented access to many of them and medical workers had deserted the area. Although the violence appears to have ended, ethnic tensions are still high and many people remain in hiding in the bush.

“We believe that major reconciliation efforts will be needed for the IDPs and Ivorian refugees in neighbouring countries to be able to return home in safety and dignity,” said UNHCR’s spokesman Andrej Mahecic at a Geneva press briefing on Friday.

In the western town of Duékoué, the Catholic mission has seen thousands of displaced people come and go in recent months. The mission’s overcrowded compound currently hosts 27,000 people who had fled nearby villages. Five people on the site died from malaria this week.

“Many of the displaced told our staff they are waiting to see security restored in their areas of origin so that they can return home. Some have asked to be escorted back to their villages, for fear of harassment at checkpoints,” said Mahecic. “Other IDPs, traumatized by the recent massacres in Duékoué, say they want to leave the town to seek out their families in other areas.”

Further west, near the border with Liberia, UNHCR staff have met more than 1,000 IDPs living in desperate conditions in the Ivorian department of Zouhan-Hounien and one of its sub-prefectures, Bin Houye. They are hosted on the premises of a Catholic church and the Ivorian Red Cross in Zouhan-Hounien, and in a youth centre in Bin Houye. Some of the IDPs had been injured by gunfire. Some were sleeping on the bare floor or on bags of cocoa. None of the sites had food supply, clean water, latrines or electricity.

“Some IDPs are hoping to be relocated to sites with more space and humanitarian aid,” said Mahecic. “Others are asking for help to rebuild their damaged homes.”

To respond to these needs, the UN refugee agency is working to increase its presence in western Ivory Coast. So far, it has distributed relief items to 10,000 IDPs in the west and is registering and profiling the IDPs in Duékoué to better understand their needs and return intentions.

Across the border in Liberia’s Grand Gedeh county, nearly 6,000 Ivorians have arrived since Monday after waiting on the border for weeks. The ethnic Guéré refugees, who had supported former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, said they fled after hearing news of his arrest and reprisal attacks in Abidjan. UNHCR and its partners are providing nutritional support to the malnourished among them.

Liberia now hosts more than 150,000 Ivorian refugees while more than 13,000 others are spread across several countries in West Africa.
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