Church aiding refugees as insecurity worsens in Ivory Coast

The country has been hit by months of unrest as incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to hand over power to his rival Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner of last November’s presidential election.

The instability has turned to violent conflict in recent weeks as rival forces clash in the Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan.

The violence has triggered an exodus of more than 70,000 people, around half of whom have crossed the border into Liberia.

Most of the refugees in Liberia are concentrated in the border village of Butuo, where ACT Alliance member Finn Church Aid has been supplying the clinics with medicine and other medical supplies since December.

Many of those turning up to the clinics are suffering from malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory diseases and pneumonia.

Päivi Muma, FCA’s West Africa coordinator, who has just returned from Butuo, reported that some of those seeking medical care had received their wounds while attempting to crawl to safety.

FCA says the border villages are completely out of clean water, with only two of the four wells working “to some degree”.

It has started work on repairing the wells and bridges in the border region, and transporting people to the hospitals.

“We are also urgently arranging for an ambulance, because there are no doctors at the clinics, only nurses,” said Muma.

She reported that no food aid had arrived in Butuo or any of the many other border villages where refugees are sheltering.

With only a few hundred refugees brought to the purpose-built refugee camp in the nearby town of Bahn, the spread of refugees along the border villages has made them harder to reach.

Muma said many of the children she had encountered were traumatised.

“Witnessing gunshots and having to flee your home village have upset children tremendously. Many children were still in total panic,” she said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday that the number of internally displaced persons in Abidjan had exceeded 200,000, most of them moving from the northern suburb of Abobo, where fighting has been intense in the last week, to stay with friends and relatives in other parts of the city.

The UN said that “large numbers” had been forced to find temporary shelter in churches and other communal buildings around the city.

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said many of the IDPs in temporary shelter were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is urging Ivorian authorities to put an end to inter-ethnic violence and is calling for an immediate investigation into some of the crimes being reported.

Ms Fleming expressed concern about a group of families trapped inside a church in Abobo.

She said: “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.”

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination voiced concern over “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”.