Deportations to Ivory Coast must be halted: UNHCR

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The UN refugee agency on Friday signalled to governments worldwide that they should stop sending Ivorian asylum seekers back to their homeland while the country is in the grip of political unrest.

Andre Mahecic, a spokesman for the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said only Germany and Switzerland had formally halted such returns so far.

"We are issuing this morning a return position to governments worldwide urging them to follow suit and suspend all returns to Ivory Coast pending improvements in the security and human rights situation," he told journalists.

Meanwhile, Guinea and Liberia have formally declared that they would automatically recognise people fleeing the neighbouring West African country as refugees, he pointed out.

The UNHCR highlighted violence in the wake of the contested outcome of the November 28 presidential election in Ivory Coast, including serious human rights violations, abductions, extrajudicial executions and sexual attacks.

The agency was unable to say immediately if any deportations to Ivory Coast had taken place in recent weeks.

About 30,000 people have fled to neighbouring Liberia, while 340 refugees have been registered in Guinea, according to the UNHCR.

The UNHCR's position has value as guidance.

It has protested in recent months that a similar stance on central areas of Iraq has repeatedly been ignored by some north European countries that have been deporting failed Iraqi asylum seekers since last year.

© 2011 AFP

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