The Ivorian refugee crisis is spreading further across West Africa, with Ghana and Togo receiving a growing number of new arrivals. While the southern city of Abidjan has been relatively calm in recent days, fresh clashes were reported Monday in Côte d’Ivoire’s west, centre-west and east.
In the west, renewed fighting has been reported in the town of Duékoué, which has experienced several waves of violence since December. Hostilities have also spread to the town of Daloa, some 100 kilometres east of Duékoué, and to Bondoukou near the Ghanaian border.
“UNHCR continues to advocate with both forces for civilians to be protected from harm,” said the UN refugee agency’s chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
In neighbouring Liberia, Grand Gedeh County in the east has registered over 10,000 newly arriving Ivorians in the last week alone, mostly in the Gbarzon and Tchein districts. Around 300 to 400 people are still arriving every day, and refugees tell UNHCR that many more are on their way.
“Several people say they left family members behind in their panic, including children. To reach Liberia, they cross the Cavally River with very few possessions and usually no money. Some could only carry bundles on their heads,” said Fleming.
The remote locations, rough terrain and long travel time between locations mean that UNHCR staff can only register refugees and distribute at one place at a time. The agency has dispatched relief items and is working with the World Food Programme to ensure food distribution and provision of high energy biscuits for all new arrivals. Additional staff have been deployed from Saclepea further north to strengthen the response.
A total of 24,507 refugees are now in Grand Gedeh, accounting for 22 per cent of the total 112,000 Ivorian refugees who have fled to Liberia since the crisis erupted after a presidential election in late November.
On Côte d’Ivoire’s eastern flank, Ghana has received 3,129 new refugees, mainly from Abidjan and its suburbs. UNHCR has set up a transit centre at the Elubo border crossing, as well as a refugee camp in the town of Ampain that can hold 3,000 people. The agency is providing food and relief items while racing to complete works on water, health and sanitation facilities.
The search is on to identify a second, bigger camp with the authorities. Fleming noted, “Although the number of refugees in Ghana is relatively small, the rapidly deteriorating conditions in Côte d’Ivoire require that we be prepared for a major influx. In the coming days, we will be deploying a team of six emergency staff to Ghana.”
Further east still, in Togo, some 857 Ivorians – over 60 per cent of them male – have also found safety in the capital Lomé. They fled through Ghana from Abobo, PK-18, Adjame, Williamsville and Yopougon, which are among the most populous and dangerous districts of Abidjan. Some in the group told UNHCR their properties were looted, others that they had been physically assaulted. Several women said they were raped.
In total, some 116,000 Ivorians have fled to eight West African countries since the post-election crisis started. In addition to Liberia, Ghana and Togo, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria are also hosting Ivorian refugees.
Of the US$97 million UNHCR needs for this emergency response, donors have thus far funded US$20 million.
By Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba in Geneva