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Côte d’Ivoire: growing insecurity

09-03-2011 Interview

Fighting has continued this week in several parts of the capital of Côte d’Ivoire and in the west of the country, claiming new victims and forcing thousands of people to leave their homes. Philippe Beauverd, deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Abidjan, gives his view of the situation.

See also: Côte d'Ivoire: internally displaced, so close and yet so far from home

 

What are things like in Abidjan at present?

The situation is unstable and varies from one district to another. Life is going on more or less as usual in some parts of the city, whereas the suburb of Abobo has been the scene of heavy weapons fire, which has claimed lives and caused thousands of people to flee to Anyama and to other parts of the capital.

At present, there is still considerable tension in some districts and we have received reports of large numbers of victims. We have also noted increased insecurity.

What are the main humanitarian problems that you have noted in the field?

The fighting in the suburb of Abobo has claimed several lives and forced many people to leave their homes. Most of them have been taken in by relatives or friends – a good example of African solidarity that should be stressed and that plays a vital role in this crisis. Others are currently being housed at temporary reception centres.

Health centres report that many people have wounds caused by knives and other weapons that they are not always able to treat. At this stage, however, the situation is so unclear that it is impossible to give precise figures for the number of dead, wounded or displaced persons.

The entire population of Abidjan is affected in one way or another, especially by the deteriorating security conditions and fear of the street fighting spreading. Many inhabitants have taken in relatives or friends fleeing areas that are the scene of violence.

What have you been able to do for the people affected by the recent clashes?

We were able to go swiftly to Abobo and Anyama to assess the needs. We have already distributed medicines in Anyama, Angré, Adjamé and Yopougon to help some health centres to cope with the influx of wounded and sick people.

We have also provided assistance for three reception centres for displaced persons in Abidjan, which are housing 500 to 600 people. In order to meet their basic needs, we have provided them with water, shelters and hygiene requisites. Lastly, our delegates visit people who have been arrested during the recent events.

Over the next few days, we will continue to provide support for the reception centres for displaced persons, depending on how the security situation develops in the different parts of the capital and particularly in Anyama.

What can you tell us about the situation in the west?

Given the security constraints in that part of the country, it is difficult to gain access to that area and the telephones are not working. However, the humanitarian situation in Côte d’Ivoire is unclear at present. We are trying to obtain more information, especially through our structures in Guiglo and Man.

At the moment, thanks to information from our ICRC colleagues working across the border, we know that the fighting in the west has caused mass displacement to neighbouring Liberia. According to some humanitarian agencies, there are more than 75,000 Ivorian refugees in that country. To respond to their humanitarian needs, ICRC and Liberia National Red Cross Society teams have already provided emergency relief in the form of drinking water. They are also actively involved in helping the refugees to get in touch with family members who are still in Côte d'Ivoire.

Are you afraid for the safety of your staff in Abidjan?

We have been given safety guarantees by all parties and are therefore able to carry on working despite the difficulty of the situation. We consult our contact persons before travelling to sensitive areas.

We also maintain ongoing contact with the political and military players, who recognize the value of our neutral and independent humanitarian activities. However, we have to remain vigilant: safety can never be taken for granted. We are particularly concerned that young people from various factions, who are armed with knives and cudgels, seem to be completely out of control. They have set up barricades in some streets and are venting their anger on the local people.


Photos

Philippe Beauverd 

Philippe Beauverd
© ICRC

Angree, Abidjan, 1 March 2011. Children sleep on the floor in St Ambrose's Church, a temporary refuge from the fighting. 

Angree, Abidjan, 1 March 2011. Children sleep on the floor in St Ambrose's Church, a temporary refuge from the fighting.
© Reuters / Thierry Gouegnon