One million may be displaced in Ivory Coast's Abidjan

25th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The UN refugee agency said on Friday that up to one million people may have been displaced by fighting in Ivory Coast's city of Abidjan as more people fled their homes amid fears of all-out war.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid agencies said they had largely lost the picture further to the west of the country, which has also been wracked by fighting, due to poor access.

"There is escalating insecurity in Ivory Coast's Abidjan, we're seeing a sharp rise in displacement," said Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"There are estimates that there could be up to one million people just in Abidjan who have been displaced," she told journalists, adding that the estimates were made by the agency's own staff on the ground.

The UNHCR cited estimates of between 700,000 and one million people displaced, largely from the city of Abidjan, including the heavily populated districts of Abobo, Adjamame, Williamsville and Yopougon.

"The massive displacement in Abidjan and elsewhere is being fuelled by fears of all-out war," Fleming said.

Just over a week ago UNHCR estimates put the number of displaced in the country at around half a million, she underlined.

UNHCR spokeswoman for Africa Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba told AFP that new pockets of displaced people were being found inside Abidjan every day, although many appeared to be fleeing to the north, centre and east of Ivory Coast.

"It's our best estimate," she explained. "Those leaving Abidjan are many more than those staying."

The UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned that the situation in the rural west of Ivory Coast was uncertain, with no clear estimate of the number of people displaced there.

However, aid agencies underlined that violence was continuing in the area.

The International Committee of the Red Cross revealed Friday that it was setting up aid for just 3,000 people found in the western town of Toulepleu during an evaluation mission about a week ago.

The town normally has 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, but most had fled nearby or into Liberia, according to the agency.

"The town is devastated, no house has been spared and the hospital was abandoned and looted," said ICRC Abidjan delegation chief Dominique Liengme.

The UN human rights office was looking into unconfirmed allegations that about 200 nationals of the west African regional bloc ECOWAS, including people from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Togo, have been killed in the west around the town of Guiglo.

"Irrespective of that particular situation there are clear indications that west African nationals... continue to be subjected to targeted attacks," said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"We're extremely concerned about the worsening situation in Ivory Coast particularly given the continuing incitement by the outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo and the leader of the Young Patriots Organisation."

The number of refugees who have fled to neighbouring Liberia in the west has also increased, reaching the 100,000 mark, according to the UNHCR.

"We're very concerned that this conflict could spill into Liberia," said Fleming.

Meanwhile, the 47 member UN Human Rights Council decided on Friday to set up an international inquiry into the violence, approving a resolution that also condemned "atrocities" in Ivory Coast and expressed concern about "the seriousness and extent" of abuse.

© 2011 AFP

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