Ivorians Seeking Refuge in Togo
Thousands of Ivorian refugees are taking refugee in neighboring countries, as fighting intensifies between forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara in the world’s top cocoa-growing nation.
United Nations-certified results show Alassane Ouattara won the November 28 presidential election. Forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara are battling to forcefully remove incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down.
More than three months of post-election turmoil has killed more than 1,000 people in Ivory Coast and rekindled the country’s 2002 civil war.
Hundreds of thousands Ivorian refugees have taken refuge in neighboring countries, prompting Liberia to set up refugee centers in collaboration with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Brownie Samukai, the Liberian Minister of Defense, says the international community has a stake in assuring that people in Ivory Coast get help in this conflict.
“They deserve the attention of the international community and that attention will protect the investment that you have made in Liberia, and that attention will make sure that those women are okay, those civilians who are suffering the brunt in Ivory Coast can be protected. Liberia supports the stand that the ECOWAS has taken and we believe that it is in our best interest that international community also come and support ECOWAS to urge the UN to take the appropriate step as a desire in order to bring peace.”
According to the UN, as many as one million people have fled the conflict to neighboring countries.
Aid agencies across the region are appealing to the international community to increase donations to help the refugees. Many of those arriving in Liberia and other countries have very little with them:
“We arrived in Lome, and we have no accommodation. There is no accommodation and we do not know where to sleep, we cannot fully integrate, it’s difficult for us here in Lome.”
“It’s ok for us men, but for women who now have to sleep outside, and who don’t have a roof over their heads, it’s really pitiful, really pathetic. We as Ivorian refugees, we didn’t ask for this to happen to our country. It may be that our country is going through another chapter in its history, but what is happening to our country is horrible.”
In Togo, the situation is similar. Refugee assistance official Moise Inaddjo says the country has been trying to provide the basic necessities for the refugees.
“When they arrive to the national coordination of assistance for refugees, we try to calm them, we try to listen to them and many are traumatized. We must first help them out the trauma and then we register them as refugees. When we register them, we realise that there are many cases, and that many of them have nothing to eat for example”.
Armed militiamen loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo are patrolling streets in Abidjan in a standoff with forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara. Dressed in army fatigues or civilian clothing, the militiamen are on the streets or on boats. Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-Ouattara soldiers are gathered on the outskirts of Abidjan, waiting to launch what they say will be a final assault to unseat Laurent Gbagbo.