U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire hosted more than 100,000 refugees at the end of 2001, including about 100,000 from Liberia, some 2,000 from Sierra Leone, and at least 1,000 urban refugees from more than two dozen other countries.

Several thousand Liberian refugees repatriated during the year, while 10,000 or more new Liberian refugees arrived in Côte d'Ivoire.

At least 10,000 residents of Côte d'Ivoire – and perhaps far more – fled political and ethnic violence in their home areas, becoming internally displaced during the year. It was unclear how many remained displaced at year's end.

Refugees from Liberia

Liberian refugees fled to Côte d'Ivoire in the early 1990s, escaping civil war in their own country. Their numbers in Côte d'Ivoire peaked at about 300,000 in the mid-1990s. Nearly 100,000 refugees formally repatriated to Liberia during 1996-2000 after the civil war ended, but persistent poor security in Liberia pushed about 15,000 new refugees into Côte d'Ivoire during 1999-2000. At the start of 2001, approximately 90,000 Liberian refugees were living in Côte d'Ivoire.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) originally expected 10,000 Liberians to depart Côte d'Ivoire and return home during 2001, but only 2,000 formally repatriated. Renewed violence in Liberia forced UNHCR to suspend its repatriation program and shift its limited funds to humanitarian assistance for thousands of new Liberian refugees arriving in Côte d'Ivoire.

Some 7,000 new refugees settled in Nicla camp in western Côte d'Ivoire, doubling the camp's size. However, refugees who were a different ethnicity than the camp's predominantly ethnic Krahn population chose to live elsewhere in Côte d'Ivoire, without assistance.

New arrivals at Nicla camp received food, construction materials, cooking supplies, blankets, sleeping mats, and land for farming. Funding problems, however, initially slowed food deliveries, according to Refugees International.

Only refugees at Nicla camp received aid. Most Liberian refugees who have lived in Côte d'Ivoire for nearly ten years resided in 200 villages spread along Côte d'Ivoire's border with Liberia, about 300 miles (500 km) from Abidjan, the capital.

Disagreements continued to surface among aid workers about whether long-term Liberian refugees were able to support themselves without assistance. Food distribution to long-term refugees at Nicla camp ceased at the start of 2001, but resumed when assessments by the government, UNHCR, and the World Food Program (WFP) found that "refugees were in urgent need of food assistance."

UNHCR observed in mid-2001 that "there has been little improvement in the level of self-sufficiency" of Liberian refugees. Some aid agencies warned that relatively little farmland was available to the refugee population, hindering their ability to feed themselves.

Efforts to integrate Liberian refugee students into Ivorien schools met with partial success during the year but remained a controversial initiative. Refugees, local residents, and Ivorien government officials have resisted school integration for years, but UNHCR and international donors have long regarded school integration as the best solution for long-term refugee students.

A special education conference in May warned that school integration faced many challenges, including local teacher shortages, limited education budgets, lack of classroom space, language differences between Liberian students and local pupils, age differences among students, and anti-foreigner attitudes among many Ivorien residents.

About $16 million and 320 new classrooms were required for full integration of refugee students into local schools, one study concluded. UNHCR, with financial backing from the U.S. government, pledged to build 90 new classrooms. WFP offered to provide school lunches.

Nearly 20,000 Liberian students studied at special refugee schools during 2001. Many of the schools had Ivorien teachers and followed Côte d'Ivoire's official education curriculum.

Some 13,000 refugee children received vaccinations against tetanus and meningitis during 2001. Health workers expressed concern about a high level of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among the refugee population.UNHCR funded health care for the poorest refugee families and improved efforts to reunite refugee children who had become separated from their families in Liberia.

UNHCR closed two offices in the border towns of Danane and Tabou during the year, and planned to close a third office in the border town of Guiglo in early 2002. The office closures were unpopular among Liberian refugees and left them "terrified," according to a UNHCR relief worker on the scene. UNHCR closed the offices because of budget constraints and its assessment that most refugees were well-integrated locally.

General Refugee Issues

In a change opposed by UNHCR, the government's refugee agency, known as the Service for Aid and Assistance to Refugees and Stateless Persons, transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Defense Ministry during 2000-2001. Some analysts regarded the administrative change as an indication that Ivorien officials increasingly regarded refugees and other foreigners as potential security risks.

As in previous years, most refugees in Côte d'Ivoire lacked identity documents, leaving the refugee population vulnerable to harassment and arbitrary detention by police. A joint program by the government and UNHCR to issue identity cards began in 1999, but made little progress during 2000 and 2001 because many police regarded the documents as invalid. Refugees living in the capital, Abidjan, continued to receive new identity cards, however.

The government maintained a policy of barring urban refugee students from attending public schools if the students had begun their education outside the country, forcing many urban refugee students to attend private schools. UNHCR provided financial stipends to needy refugee families unable to afford private school fees.

More than 500 refugees in Côte d'Ivoire permanently resettled abroad, including in the United States, as part of an international resettlement program.

Violence in Côte d'Ivoire

Political and communal violence have rocked Côte d'Ivoire repeatedly since 1999, undermining the country's reputation for relative stability compared to its neighbors.

Local tensions over domestic elections, an economic downturn, and land disputes have increasingly targeted immigrants who have lived in the country for a generation or more. The country's 15 million residents include an estimated 4 million or more immigrants from poorer African countries.

In 1999, at least 10,000 immigrants from neighboring Burkina Faso fled from southwest Côte d'Ivoire because of violence and threats against them by Ivoriens.

In 2000, tens of thousands of immigrants and Ivoriens fled communal violence in the west and southwest. Tens of thousands of immigrants reportedly departed the country and returned to Burkina Faso, further disrupting the country's faltering economy. The massive population displacement "contains the seeds of serious destabilization," a UN humanitarian document warned in late 2000.

In 2001, Ivorien authorities blamed neighboring governments for a failed coup attempt in the capital, aggravating anti-foreigner sentiments. Violence linked to municipal elections pushed 2,000 people from their homes in southwest Côte d'Ivoire in March. The displaced included Ivorien citizens and immigrants from Mali, Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Guinea.

In May, ethnic clashes sparked by land-ownership disputes killed six persons and displaced 2,000 people about 250 miles (400 km) west of the capital, Abidjan. Immigrants from Burkina Faso were among the victims. The International Committee of the Red Cross distributed food, blankets, and soap to the displaced.

In August, more than 1,000 Malian immigrants living in central Côte d'Ivoire fled ethnic violence and moved into five camps in the major city of Bouake, while thousands of other immigrants reportedly fled to the homes of friends or relatives.

The Ivorien Human Rights League criticized mistreatment of foreigners, charging that police routinely destroyed immigrants' identity documents, stole their possessions, and subjected foreigners to "degrading treatment" in an effort to push them from the country.

"The political and social climate remains tense," a UN report warned. Immigrants and migrant workers from neighboring countries, "fearing hostilities, have been fleeing the country en masse, despite the government's public plea for calm and a halt to the harassment of foreigners," the report noted.


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