Ivory Coast: Conflict Displaces Over 200,000

Ivory Coast civilians leave the dangerous suburb of Abobo in Abidjan. (Photo: UNHCR/H.Caux)

Over 200,000 refugees from the Ivory Coast have fled to Liberia and other neighboring countries since armed conflict between the nation's political powers intensified.

The fighting, which is the worst the Ivory Coast has seen since their 2002-2003 civil war, stems from a dispute over last November's presidential election, which challenger Alasanne Ouattara and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo both claim to have won.

Despite Ouatarra's victory being validated by the Independent Electoral Commission and strongly supported by the international community, Gbagbo, who has been in power for ten years, has refused to step down. He has instead unleashed a wave of violence that has reportedly left hundreds of Ouatarra's supporters dead or arrested.

Ouatarra's supporters have fought back and have recently taken control of a few cities including Toulepleu on the country's southwestern coast, according to reports.

Since the violence broke out in December, refugees have been pouring into neighboring countries despite having little chance of survival without humanitarian aid.

"Over one weekend, 6,000 refugees arrived in this village of mud huts," said Päivi Muma of Finn Church Aid (FCA), who was stationed in the Liberian village of Butuo when the refugees arrived. "They had no shelter, despite the rain during the night. Some slept at the clinic and at the school, but many had to sleep in the open."

The FCA has called the situation in Butuo and other Liberian villages "alarming," according to a release, and say that providing food and clean water is urgent – a task that is becoming increasingly more difficult as security conditions worsen, according to the United Nations.

"In this environment, it is extremely problematic for humanitarian agencies to be operational and reach the displaced," said UN worker Jacques Franquin.

Last Friday, an African Union panel of state heads was scheduled to give a solution to the crisis but was given a month-extension instead. A day earlier, the UN Security Council warned that the Ivory Coast was on the verge of "civil war."

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