Ongoing violence and turmoil in Ivory Coast prolong mass displacement
Insecurity and sexual violence continue to plague communities in Ivory Coast, preventing the return home of hundreds of thousands of displaced people from camps and villages in Ivory Coast and Liberia.
It’s been just over a month since the arrest of Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to cede power after the November election plunged the country into months of unrest that killed over a thousand people, displaced more than one million and rages on in several regions.
“It would be a huge mistake for the international community to think that humanitarian needs and violence are subsiding just because the political standoff is over,” says Louis Falcy, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Ivory Coast. “There are regions still too unsafe for people to return home. And those who never left face instability, attacks and shortages of food, water and basic services.”
One district seeing a spike in unrest is Daloa, in west-central Ivory Coast, whose population is majority Bete – the same ethnic group as former president Gbagbo. There, people have told IRC teams of reprisal raids by unidentified armed groups allegedly looking for hidden weapons. Villagers say seven people were killed in recent attacks, and many more have been threatened, had their livelihoods destroyed and their savings stolen. Because males are being targeted, some men are hiding out in the forest, leaving behind vulnerable women and children.
Since the start of the post-election turmoil, the IRC has documented a sharp rise in sexual violence and abuse against women. The IRC assisted 60 survivors of gender-based violence in April – no doubt a fraction of the number of actual victims. IRC counselors say many women are afraid to come forward, fearing retribution from assailants and rejection from their families and communities. The presence of militias and harassment at road blocks also make it more difficult for survivors and others to access healthcare services.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation remains critical and is bound to get worse. An estimated 160,000 Ivorian refugees remain in Liberia and hundreds of thousands of others are still displaced within Ivory Coast. Makeshift camps and overwhelmed communities in Ivory Coast are running out of clean water and sanitation is extremely poor. The start of the rainy season is compounding hygiene problems in camps and increasing the risk of disease outbreaks, like cholera. As road conditions deteriorate with heavy rains, it will become harder to reach people in need.
The IRC is scaling up relief efforts in both Ivory Coast and Liberia. With funding from the Netherlands Refugee Foundation (Stichting Vluchteling), the IRC has flown in 12 tons of emergency supplies from Rotterdam and is distributing the materials this week. The supplies, aimed at helping more than 43,000 displaced people in the western district of Man, include water purification tablets, sanitation materials and plastic sheets for protection from the rain.
In Man and other western regions, the IRC is assisting survivors of sexual violence, carrying out prevention campaigns in displacement camps, running recreational activities for displaced children and facilitating the reunification of separated minors with their families. IRC teams are also supplying clinics with essential drugs and working to reduce tension and restore dialogue in volatile communities.
In Liberia, the IRC continues mobile and clinic-based health services for thousands of refugees, learning and recreational programs for children and counseling for survivors of sexual violence. The IRC health team is also gearing up to respond to a surge in cases of malaria and diarrhea, which increase during the rainy season.
“People displaced by this conflict have made it clear to us that they have no intention of going home until there is stability,” says Falcy. “Ivorian authorities must urgently restore security and rule of law, effectively monitor the armed forces, and work toward easing political and ethnic tension in communities. People must be able to return to their villages safely.”