U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire hosted approximately 95,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000, including about 90,000 from Liberia, some 2,000 from Sierra Leone, and more than 2,000 from various other countries.

Some 30,000 Liberian refugees repatriated from Côte d'Ivoire during the year.

About 1,000 citizens of Côte d'Ivoire applied for asylum in Europe during the year. Political and ethnic violence directed against foreigners during 2000 uprooted thousands of immigrants who had lived in Côte d'Ivoire for years or decades, as well as smaller numbers of Ivoirien citizens. Tens of thousands of migrant workers departed Côte d'Ivoire because of anti-foreigner hostilities. About 2,000 persons remained displaced inside Côte d'Ivoire as the year ended.

Refugees from Liberia

Liberian refugees arrived in Côte d'Ivoire during the early 1990s fleeing civil war in their own country. Their numbers in Côte d'Ivoire peaked at about 300,000 in the mid-1990s. Despite 15,000 new arrivals in late 1998 and 1,000 new arrivals during 2000, gradual repatriation has occurred since Liberia's war ended in 1996.

Some 30,000 Liberian refugees repatriated from Côte d'Ivoire during 2000, leaving approximately 90,000 Liberian refugees in the country at year's end. The actual size of the Liberian population has long been uncertain because of poor registration procedures, large numbers of refugees who live on their own, and frequent movements of people back and forth across the border. Some estimates of the Liberian refugee population ranged as high as 120,000 at year's end.

About 60,000 Liberian refugees lived in camps and settlements in three areas along the 300-mile (about 500 km) Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border. An estimated 30,000 other Liberian refugees and asylum seekers reportedly lived unassisted in the country's major urban areas.

During 2000, refugees' return home was facilitated by long-delayed improvements in ferry transportation across the river separating Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia at a key crossing point near the Ivoirien town of Tabou. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided plastic sheeting, sleeping mats, water cans, farming tools, and measles vaccinations to families as they returned to Liberia.

Tens of thousands of refugees chose not to repatriate during the year because of concerns about insecurity and poor economic conditions in Liberia. Some 16,000 refugees who previously had registered to repatriate declined to do so. UNHCR and the World Food Program stopped food aid to most refugees and curtailed medical care during 2000 in the belief that refugee families should either return home or be able to support themselves after living as many as ten years in Côte d'Ivoire.

Many refugees and Ivoirien officials, however, resisted efforts to integrate the refugee population with local residents. Growing anti-foreigner sentiments in the country, poor infrastructure in refugee zones, and deteriorating economic conditions hampered integration efforts.

Education policies became a lightning rod for disagreements over refugee integration. Government officials refused to allow Liberian refugee students to attend local schools, arguing that the refugee student population of 20,000 would nearly double school enrollment in border areas and overwhelm local school systems. Most refugee parents preferred to send their children to non-Ivoirien schools in any case, where students could study a Liberian curriculum and learn in English – Liberia's official language – rather than Côte d'Ivoire's French-language curriculum. UNHCR attempted to compromise by adopting an Ivoirien education curriculum in 97 refugee-only schools. Many Liberian parents opposed to the UNHCR initiative established private schools that perpetuated a Liberian curriculum.

"This situation makes it very difficult to implement a coherent long-term strategy" for refugee integration, a UNHCR report complained.

Financial constraints also plagued UNHCR programs and caused tensions among aid workers. Private international aid agencies working with UNHCR complained that their financial reimbursements from UNHCR arrived six months late or not at all. One humanitarian agency closed its assistance program because of the poor financial and administrative situation. UNHCR itself acknowledged that programs for 5,000 of the neediest refugees, such as the elderly and disabled, were insufficient during 2000.

The only refugees who received full assistance during the year were 7,000 residents of Nicla camp, many of whom arrived in Côte d'Ivoire in late 1998 and needed more time to gain self-sufficiency. Occupants of Nicla camp received food, medical care, vocational training, and other services. One private humanitarian agency, however, reported that Nicla suffered from poor sanitation and overcrowded schools early in the year.

Ivoirien authorities established a new government agency, Service for Aid and Assistance to Refugees and Stateless Persons, to oversee refugee issues. The government also transferred refugee policy from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Defense – a change that UNHCR opposed.

A joint program of the government and UNHCR to issue identity cards to the refugee population, begun in 1999 after years of discussion, proceeded slowly during 2000. Local police regularly ignored the new identity cards, leaving refugees vulnerable to harassment or worse, UNHCR reported. Because the cards failed to improve refugee protection, UNHCR suspended the identity card program in September, after only 10,000 had been distributed.

Côte d'Ivoire's domestic political tensions and growing impatience toward foreigners led to more cases of arbitrary detention and harassment of refugees during the year, according to UNHCR. Local authorities arrested four Liberian refugees for alleged participation in an armed attack into Liberia.

Violence in Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire's reputation for relative stability compared to its neighbors changed considerably during 1999-2000, as political and communal violence rocked the country. Tensions remained high as the year ended.

A military coup in late 1999 and a presidential election in late 2000 polarized the country. Pre-election political campaigns deliberately fanned anti-foreigner sentiments and inflamed regional divisions in a country that contains at least 4 million immigrants amid its15 million total population. Hundreds reportedly died in riots and clashes in the capital, Abidjan, in the days after an October presidential election that "was failed and fundamentally flawed from the outset," according to a U.S. government assessment.

While international media focused on civil unrest in Abidjan, violence and other tensions in southwest Côte d'Ivoire that forced thousands to flee their homes received much less attention.

At least 10,000 immigrants from Burkina Faso, known as Burkinabe, fled from southwest Côte d'Ivoire back to Burkina Faso in late 1999 because of violence and threats against them by local Ivoiriens. Many local Ivoiriens regarded the Burkinabe as competitors for farm land, particularly in the cocoa-growing region of the southwest. Some 2 million to 3 million Burkinabe are believed to have migrated to Côte d'Ivoire during the past 40 years because of economic opportunities. Many have lived in the country for decades.

Animosities toward foreigners continued in 2000, aggravated by the political election campaign. Communal violence again erupted in southwest Côte d'Ivoire during August to September, as ethnic Krumen Ivoiriens and Burkinabe immigrants clashed. Other Ivoirien ethnic communities in the west also slipped into conflict. At least 13 people died in the communal violence.

Thousands of people – primarily Burkinabe but also some local citizens – fled their homes in the southwest conflict zone. A Burkinabe community leader stated in October that 20,000 Burkinabe people temporarily hid in a local forest. Reports suggested that tens of thousands of Burkinabe boarded trains and buses and departed the country in the final weeks of the year. The mass departure since late 1999 "has left an economic mess in its wake," a report by an international humanitarian agency concluded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and local Red Cross workers provided rice and cooking oil to 1,000 Burkinabe who sought shelter in the southwestern city of San Pedro. UNHCR provided a limited amount of assistance as well. The government deployed additional troops and sent an official delegation in an effort to calm the conflict area.

Some analysts warned in late 2000 that communal violence in rural areas might worsen in the future. The country's growing ethnic violence "contains the seeds of serious destabilization," a UN humanitarian document warned in November.


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