Côte d'Ivoire exodus into neighbouring countries swells to 150,000

Briefing Notes, 8 April 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 April 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

From Côte d'Ivoire, thousands of refugees continue to pour into neighbouring countries amid uncertainty over the outcome of the political crisis. Close to 150,000 Ivorian refugees are now spread across West Africa.

Most of the refugees (135,000) are hosted in Liberia. On Wednesday alone, over 4,500 Ivorians were estimated to have entered Maryland county in the country's south-east. Two refugees with gunshot wounds were transferred to hospital. Some of the new arrivals told UNHCR staff they fled after fighting erupted the same day in the Ivorian coastal town of Tabou, across the Cavally river. Another group said they fled after hearing about the massacre of over 800 people in Douékoué, 150 km to the north.

Refugees we have spoken to are visibly tired, hungry and exhausted after arriving in Maryland county through different means on foot through the bushes, by canoe across the Cavally river, and by sea. Some say they saw dead bodies on their way to Liberia.

UNHCR staff in Maryland county report hearing heavy bombardment in Côte d'Ivoire across the Cavally river.

Fighting also continues to rage in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, driving more civilians into exile in Ghana. Some 2,000 Ivorians have crossed into Ghana in the last week, bringing the total there to 7,200. Ghana has opened a second camp to host the refugees. In addition to Ampain camp near the border, the new Kassap camp has received 446 refugees transferred by UNHCR in the last week.

Further east of Côte d'Ivoire, some 200 Ivorians have been arriving daily in Togo in recent days, bringing the total to 2,300 Ivorian refugees. Twelve countries in the region have received Ivorian refugees since the post-election crisis started in Côte d'Ivoire last November.

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New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

UNHCR has expressed its mounting concern about civilians trapped in the Abobo district of Cote d'Ivoire's commercial centre, Abidjan, following days of fierce fighting between forces loyal to rival presidential candidates. The situation there remains grim. Many of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Abobo have fled, but armed groups are reportedly preventing others from leaving. UNHCR is particularly concerned about vulnerable people, such as the sick and the elderly, who may not be able to leave.

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.