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Côte d'Ivoire on the Edge

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© UNHCR/G.Gordon

A New Displacement Crisis in West Africa

The presidential election in Côte d'Ivoire in November 2010 was meant to reunite the country; instead it brought renewed fighting to the West African nation. The main rivals, incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, both claimed victory at the ballot box, leading to rising political tension and violence. This culminated in the arrest of Gbagbo on April 11, 2011, following heavy fighting in the commercial capital of Abidjan.

In the weeks after the election, amid threats and sporadic violence, tens of thousands of people fled to Liberia and later to other neighbouring countries. UNHCR teams in Liberia began to reach out to these refugees in remote and difficult to access areas along the border. The refugee agency also carved a new camp out of the jungle at Bahn in Nimba County.

Fighting between supporters of the presidential rivals since late February, in the countryside and in Abidjan, accelerated the forced displacement. By late March, there were anlmost 1 million people displaced within the country, including 700,000 in Abidjan and 150,000 in the west of the country, where massacres were reported.

The number of refugees in Liberia stood at about 150,000 by the time the hostilities ended, while other countries in the region have also accepted people fleeing Côte d'Ivoire. To cope with a spike in the number of new arrivals in Liberia since February 24, UNHCR set up a rapid emergency registration system.

But the tragedy of the Ivorian people was coming at a time when world attention was focused on Libya and the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan. UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, in a bid to highlight the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire and to stress the need for international help, travelled to Liberia in late March and met Ivorian refugees.

Although major conflct has ended, sporadic violence continues and the needs of the displaced remain considerable and the UN refugee agency needs donor help for its growing emergency response. The displaced, both inside and outside the country, will not be able to return home immediately because of safety concerns. Funding is still needed for our operations in Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire.




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: 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: 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: Ivorians on the RunPlay video

Liberia: Ivorians on the Run

More than 25,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire have fled to the safety of Liberia. UNHCR is helping local communities cope.
Liberia: Providing RefugePlay video

Liberia: Providing Refuge

UNHCR is building a camp in north-eastern Liberia to shelter thousands of refugees from Côte d'Ivoire. The local community is giving a helping hand.
Liberia: Arrival at Bahn CampPlay video

Liberia: Arrival at Bahn Camp

UNHCR has opened a new camp for up to 15,000 Ivorian refugees at Bahn in eastern Liberia. Follow the arrival of the first group.