Côte d’Ivoire: UN warns insecurity preventing access to those in need of help

Civilians leave the dangerous suburb of Abobo in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

4 March 2011 – The United Nations refugee agency today warned that access for humanitarian organizations striving to continue to assist people affected the political unrest in Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital, Abidjan, and other parts of the country is shrinking rapidly amid worsening insecurity.

In Abidjan, the estimated number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has exceeded 200,000, most of them former residents of the northern suburb of Abobo, where fighting has raged in recent days, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The West African country has been beset by political uncertainty, with factional fighting and We are still very concerned about a group of 60 families trapped inside a church and without proper food, water, or sanitation, and we have appealed to combatants for these people to be let out,other forms of violence flaring up in Abidjan and the western region, since incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office after he was defeated by opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in a presidential election held last November, whose result was certified by the UN.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, meanwhile, urged Ivorian authorities to immediately halt inter-ethnic violence and called for an immediate investigation into reported crimes to bring perpetrators to justice, and provide redress to the victims in line with international human rights standards.

Many of the IDPs in Abidjan have moved in with relatives and friends, but large numbers of people have sought temporary shelter in other places around the city, including churches and other communal buildings. Those in temporary shelters are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

“UNHCR is seeking access to these vulnerable individuals, including by working through NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that we have been coordinating with, but humanitarian space in Abidjan as elsewhere in Côte d’Ivoire is being squeezed hard,” she said.

“Large numbers of refugees from Liberia, who are unable to repatriate, have taken refuge in the UNHCR compound in Abidjan since Monday,” she added.

In Abobo, whose population is estimated at about 1.5 million people, mobile telephone and television transmitters were damaged during the recent fighting, disrupting communications.

“We are still very concerned about a group of 60 families trapped inside a church and without proper food, water, or sanitation, and we have appealed to combatants for these people to be let out,” said Ms. Fleming.

The insecurity has also spread to the Deux Plauteaux, Cocody, and Koumassi neighbourhoods and the business district of Le Plateau, she said. “We are seeing increasing numbers of roadblocks,” she added.

Heavy fighting has also erupted in the west of the country, around the towns of Duékoué and Blolequin, about 90 kilometres further south. “We estimate that there are currently around 70,000 displaced people in the west and we continue to see large numbers of people crossing into Liberia,” said Ms. Fleming.

In eastern Liberia, UNHCR has registered some 40,000 refugees since November. An estimated 32,800 other people have arrived since 24 February, putting local communities and the Liberian authorities under considerable strain. Host communities and refugees are in need of food, but poor roads continue to make it difficult to get aid to those in need.

Meanwhile, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said relief agencies are revising the estimates of the funds required to respond to the Ivorian crisis in the light of the rising numbers of refugees and IDPs. Humanitarian agencies initially requested $87 million, but only $15 million has been provided.

“I urge donors to support the humanitarian response in Cote d’Ivoire and in Liberia,” said Ms. Amos, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, at a news conference in New York.

In a decision made in Geneva under its early warning and urgent action procedure, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, underscored its concern about “reports of the seriously declining human rights and humanitarian situation in Cote d’Ivoire, including ethnic tensions, incitement to ethnic violence, xenophobia, religious and ethnic discrimination.”

The Committee deplored “that the political stalemate that followed the proclamation of presidential election results continues to be marked by a number of serious and escalating human rights and humanitarian violations across the country,” the UN expert body said in a press release.

Violations include ethnic clashes that have resulted in deaths, numerous injured people, destruction of property, and the displacement of population inside and outside the country, the Committee added.

The Committee also called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to continue drawing the attention of the Security Council to the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, which “could evolve into a threat to international peace and security, along with extended violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

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