U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Côte d'Ivoire

An estimated half-million or more Ivorians remained uprooted at the end of 2003, including at least 500,000 internally displaced persons and about 55,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Some 38,000 Ivorian refugees lived in Liberia, at least 10,000 were in Guinea, 3,000 were in Mali, and more than 4,000 were asylum seekers in industrialized countries.

Some 5,000 Liberian refugees residing in Côte d'Ivoire resettled in the United States during 2003.

An estimated 50,000 or more immigrants who lived in Côte d'Ivoire also fled the country during the year.

About 74,000 refugees from other countries remained in Côte d'Ivoire at year's end, the vast majority from Liberia. Nearly 40,000 new Liberian refugees arrived in Côte d'Ivoire during 2003, while others repatriated because of violence in Côte d'Ivoire.

Continued Unrest in 2003

Despite a cease-fire agreement and the installation of a power-sharing government in Côte d'Ivoire in mid 2003, unresolved political, religious, and ethnic tensions that erupted into civil war in 2002 continued to cause unrest during the remainder of the year. (See World Refugee Survey 2003 Côte d'Ivoire country report, www.refugees.org, for background.)

Although major fighting ended in Côte d'Ivoire after the implementation of a French-brokered cease-fire agreement in May 2003, the country remained divided in half at year's end. Separated by a 30-mile (50 km) wide "comfort zone" created and patrolled by some 4,000 French soldiers and more than 1,000 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops, the Ivorian government controlled the south while rebel groups maintained their hold on the north.

Security conditions remained unpredictable and dangerous in most of the country, especially in western Côte d'Ivoire, preventing displaced Ivorians and third country nationals from returning to their homes, and UN and international humanitarian agencies from conducting through assessment missions to areas the conflict affected most. "The humanitarian needs of the people of Côte d'Ivoire are outstripping the ability of aid agencies to respond," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned in November.

Poor security also compounded the already difficult circumstances faced by Liberians who fled to Côte d'Ivoire during the year and for Liberian refugees who had lived there for more then a decade. Blame and animosity Ivorians harbored toward foreign residents for Côte d'Ivoire's economic problems and as competitors for jobs, land, and political power, forced tens of thousands of immigrants and migrant workers to return to their countries of origin under duress during the year.

Uprooted Ivorians

Continued warfare and human rights violations forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes during early 2003. Although major fighting ended mid-year, poor security prevented most internally displaced person from returning home. An estimated 500,000 remained internally displaced at year's end. An estimated 50,000 or more became refugee and asylum seekers, primarily in Liberia during the year.

Most internally displaced persons lived with relatives and host families. Displaced populations unable to reach the homes of relatives or friends moved into church compounds, UN office compounds, government compounds and social centers, and partially constructed buildings. Tens of thousands of others fled to forests and jungles, where they remained beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies.

The World Food Programme (WFP) managed to open a humanitarian corridor to the western Côte d'Ivoire town of Danané, less than 15 miles (30 km) from the Liberian border, in mid 2003, enabling the agency to distribute food rations to thousands of desperate displaced persons through the end of the year. The corridor's creation allowed other organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, to operate basic humanitarian programs in the area. Funding shortages, however, forced WFP to reduce food rations and the number of recipients by 30 percent in August. Poor security prevented accurate assessments of numbers and made conditions difficult.

In western Côte d'Ivoire, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was aware of some 150,000 persons who remained internally displaced at year's end, including more than 21,000 in and around Guiglo, nearly 50,000 in and around Duékoué, and an estimated 54,000 in and around the town of Toulepleu near the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border.

In addition to poor security, lack of human and financial resources prevented UNHCR from meeting the displaced population's enormous needs. Nearly 28,000 people remained internally displaced in four camps and with family or friends in the capital, Yamoussoukro, in central Côte d'Ivoire. Tens of thousands of others struggled to survive on their own in and around Bouake, the country's second-largest city and headquarters of the government opposition, the Forces Nouvelles.

Thousands of uprooted persons also fled to Abidjan, the country's largest city during the year. No accurate estimates of the number of displaced persons in Abidjan existed at year's end. As the year ended, the UN appealed to international donors for $60 million to "respond to the needs of over one million people affected by the war in Côte d'Ivoire," it stated in November.

Uprooted Immigrants in Côte d'Ivoire

The outbreak of war in 2002 and its continuation during 2003 intensified popular sentiments against the estimated 4 million African immigrants and migrant workers residing in Côte d'Ivoire, particularly the estimated 2 million from Burkina Faso. Ivorian government officials charged that Burkina Faso supported rebel forces, provoking widespread suspicions among Ivorians against virtually all foreigners.

An estimated 50,000 or more immigrants fled Côte d'Ivoire during 2003. Most resettled in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, and various other West African countries. Accurate figures were unavailable. Several thousand immigrants fled westward into Liberia, where they became refugees while awaiting transit to their home countries. It is likely that tens of thousands of other immigrants evacuated from Côte d'Ivoire without being counted.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted some 7,000 third-country nationals return home during the year. Ivorian authorities harassed, physically harmed, and demanded bribes from migrants leaving Côte d'Ivoire in IOM convoys. The harassment delayed convoys for many hours, including on isolated highways and during darkness.

Refugees from Liberia

Côte d'Ivoire's civil war and related violence in eastern Liberia pushed tens of thousands of Liberians back and forth across the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border during early 2003. Fighting in western Côte d'Ivoire also endangered thousands of Liberians in Nicla refugee camp. The presence of Liberian combatants in the Côte d'Ivoire conflict intensified many Ivorians' suspicions toward Liberian refugees.

At the beginning of 2003, most of the Liberian refugee population lived along a 300-mile (500 km) corridor near the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border. The majority of refugees had fled Liberia's civil war during the 1990s and lived a somewhat integrated lifestyle in small Ivorian villages, towns, and rural sites where they supported themselves, but remained vulnerable to local discrimination. About 5,000 occupied Nicla camp.

In mid-May, 40,000 or more Liberians fleeing violence in eastern Liberia flooded into western Côte d'Ivoire. Nearly all of the newly arrived refugees huddled in villages near the Cavally River along the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border, where they outnumbered local villagers and survived in precarious security and humanitarian conditions.

A U.S. Committee for Refugees site visit to the refugee zone in June – July found refugees living without protection and basic emergency assistance. A USCR report in August warned, however, that providing more than immediate assistance could further endanger the lives of the Liberian refugee population. "Despite refugee's needs, developing too much of an infrastructure to support refugees beyond emergency assistance in sites and villages along the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border could create an incentive for Liberian and Ivorian rebel entities to harass and possibly attack refugee populations," USCR reported.

As security slightly improved, UNHCR and WFP provided the Liberian population and host villages in the refugee zone with basic assistance, including food rations, plastic sheeting, and water containers. Côte d'Ivoire's transit camp in the port-town of Tabou, near the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border, which was built to temporarily house 700 refugees, had some 4,000 Liberians in late June. UNHCR expanded the transit center to alleviate overcrowding and to accommodate Liberian refugees willing to relocate from host villages. Most refugees chose to remain among the local population.

During early 2003 as the war spread closer to Nicla camp, several thousand refugees evacuated the camp, while thousands of others fled to Nicla in hopes of safety. Some refugees returned to Liberia despite lingering dangers there. USCR also visited Nicla camp, which played a role in the destabilization that plagued much of western Côte d'Ivoire and eastern Liberia and remained highly militarized during 2003. "The Ivorian government is responsible for security in Nicla camp, but is complicit in the illegal recruitment of refugees into armed groups. Attempts by UNHCR in Côte d'Ivoire to institute measures to address the state-sponsored recruitment have failed," USCR reported.

UNHCR attempted to evacuate refugees from Nicla camp and transfer them to a safer location in Côte d'Ivoire or in a nearby country. Foreign governments and local Ivorian officials refused to accept the refugees, however. About 5,000 Liberians remained at Nicla camp at year's end. Several thousand others lived in and around Guiglo, less than 3 miles (5 km) from Nicla.

Some 10,000 vulnerable Liberian refugees that fled to Côte d'Ivoire during the mid-1990s resided in Nicla camp, Guiglo, the Tabou transit center and the town of San Pedro, in southwestern Côte d'Ivoire, and in refugee sites in and around Abidjan in early 2003. Despite six months of effort by the international community to seek a regional durable solution for these vulnerable refugees, no West African nation agreed to resettle them. The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) submitted some 8,000 individual names for consideration for U.S. resettlement. Some 5,000 Liberians had resettled in the United States by the end of 2003.


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