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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

COTE D'IVOIRE: UN envoy appeals for protection of refugees and displaced

ABIDJAN, 20 January 2003 (IRIN) - The UN Humanitarian Envoy for Cote d'Ivoire, Carolyn McAskie, at the weekend appealed to the Ivorian government to exercise its obligations with regards to humanitarian law and provide protection to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Following her visit to a refugee site in Abidjan's Attoban neighbourhood and two other shantytowns - Gobele and Allakro-, McAskie stressed the need for the government to provide protection especially to Liberian refugees in the country and IDPs, particularly those living in shantytowns.

"I realise that you are coming up against incredible discrimination here in Cote d'Ivoire, where you came for safety," she said to the refugees. "We are working with UNHCR and with the government to make sure you are treated with respect as refugees. You have the right to protection under the highest law: the international humanitarian law. We are asking the government to respect this."

McAskie who is also the Deputy Emergency Humanitarian Coordinator said she would, during her current mission, put a request by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for temporary asylum for refugees to the governments in the region. The refugee site she visited had 145 refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone and was run by UNHCR. After 19 September, UNHCR has had to set up seven transit centres for refugees in Abidjan.

At the Gobele shantytown, McAskie said: "It is not the habit of Ivorians to live in conflict. The fact that Ivorians and many other nationals live here in peace is a model for the country [...] I've seen with my own eyes the difficulties you face and I will bring your story back to the UN. I promise we will do our best to help you."

Gobele shantytown has a total population of 30,580 from various nationalities, including Ivorians. Bukina Faso nationals make up the majority. It does not have a school nor a dispensary but it has water and electricity.

"The government must treat people better, not only its citizens but all inhabitants[...]," McAskie told residents of Allakro shantytown which was destroyed on 20 September. According to UNICEF, the site had an estimated 4,000 residents. Currently it has about 1,300 people, a mix of Ivorians, Burkinabes, Malians, Ghanaians, Togolese and Nigerians. Some 300 people sleep in the open air and the "population is extremely vulnerable", UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) who man the site said.

UNICEF along with Medecins du Monde and Save the Children Sweden are providing health assistance, and recreational facilities to the children. The forum of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is also involved in the project.

At a meeting with local NGOs on Saturday afternoon, which was attended by the UN Resident Coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih, McAskie stressed that Cote d'Ivoire was the "motor" for West Africa. "Right now the motor is broken and that is bad for the region. Even if the government needs to protect itself, it must protect shantytown dwellers who have lost everything," she said.

The NGOs said they were working at their own peril in many parts of the country. They said the humanitarian mechanisms were not responding to the needs of many displaced, adding that they lacked the means. "Even in Abidjan many displaced cannot get to work they are afraid to leave their homes. Some are in hiding," the noted.

McAskie expressed the UN's readiness to work with the NGOs. "We are here to support you," Benlamlih emphasised.

Meanwhile, using canoes and buses, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) begun the repatriation at the weekend of thousands of Liberian refugees from western Cote d'Ivoire. The agency requested a police security escort following days of negotiations with local villages for safe passage.

The return required five buses to transport 100 Liberians for 30 km to the Cavaly River - which forms the border between the two countries - where the canoes will be waiting to ferry them across.

According to Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, nearly 2,400 Liberian refugees had registered at the agency's office in the southwestern town of Tabou between 14-17 January.

"They include 850 who had fled into the compound earlier this month to escape growing tensions with the local population, and hundreds of others who came from surrounding villages upon hearing of the return operation," Janowski had said on Friday.

In a related development, the World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE launched a health project in Bouake aimed at preventing cholera and other contagious diseases, WFP said on Monday.

The project will benefit some 4,400 people, 80 percent of whom women and children under five-years old.

It expressed fears by humanitarian agencies of possible disease outbreaks in central and northern Cote d'Ivoire due to lack of personnel and supplies. Of major concern were: cholera, measles, yellow fever, meningitis - all of which could easily spread among the IDPs.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


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