Côte d'Ivoire: the difficult return of refugees and other displaced people

19-01-2012 Operational Update

Thousands of refugees and other displaced people gradually returning to their home areas are still suffering the effects of the conflict. The ICRC is maintaining its aid for particularly vulnerable people in the west of the country.

Needs remain significant in the west

Displaced and refugee families, arriving home after being away for many months or even an entire year, are finding their houses destroyed, their property looted and health-care centres ransacked. Even clean drinking water is still hard to obtain in certain villages in the vicinity of Bloléquin, Guiglo and Toulepleu.

"Even though post-election violence has largely ceased, many people in western Côte d'Ivoire, whether they be residents, recent returnees or still displaced, continue to have significant humanitarian needs," said Dominique Liengme, the head of the ICRC delegation in Abidjan. "All too often in this region especially hard hit by the conflict, people still lack clean drinking water and proper housing, or cannot meet their everyday needs. Health-care services also remain inadequate."

Since January 2011, several mobile clinics have been providing general and prenatal care in villages situated between Bloléquin and Goya, where the return of health-care personnel is taking time. Wherever necessary, they dress wounds or evacuate patients to health-care centres that are still operational. Over the past 12 months, they have seen more than 43,000 patients.

The rebuilding of the hospital in Toulepleu, which was damaged and looted during the conflict, is nearing completion. The hospital in Bloléquin and the clinics in Zéaglo and Sahibli have been up and running again since September 2011.

Clean drinking water was often in painfully short supply during the conflict. Since January 2011, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Côte d'Ivoire have chlorinated some 11,000 wells. In addition, the installation and repair of water tanks has resulted in improved access to drinking water for over 45,000 displaced people.

To meet the immediate food needs of the displaced and recent returnee communities, the ICRC and the Ivorian Red Cross distributed food and emergency supplies to almost 187,000 people in 2011. In October, food aid was provided for another 27,500 returnees in villages near Bloléquin and Péhé.

Getting back to work, finding a place to live

"It's important for the communities that have returned to rural areas to resume farming activities," said Ms Liengme. "Those activities form the basis for self-sufficiency especially among the neediest people, and for avoiding the vicious circle of overdependence on humanitarian aid." Between August and October 2011, some 27,500 people in the rural western part of the country benefited from their cocoa and coffee plantations being cleared of the brush that had invaded them. Approximately 11,000 hectares were cleared in the departments of Bloléquin, Toulepleu and Zouan-Hounien.

In order to help families that have returned and whose houses were destroyed during the conflict, the ICRC has begun to rebuild and repair 500 houses in the Man, Guiglo and Gagnoa areas. "We have adopted an approach that involves the participation of the affected communities," said Ms Liengme. "We are recruiting bricklayers, joiners, brickmakers and other craftsmen locally."

As a result of the use of heavy weapons during the conflict, there remain many unexploded devices in Côte d'Ivoire, especially in Abidjan. To limit the danger for the population, the ICRC has undertaken a campaign together with other partners to clean up areas contaminated with these explosive remnants of war. Five clearance operations have taken place in coordination with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) in Abidjan. In addition, the ICRC has trained Ivorian Red Cross volunteers to educate people in the areas at highest risk about the dangers of unexploded devices.

Reuniting dispersed families

Since January 2011, volunteers from the Liberian, Guinean and Ivorian Red Cross societies, working in close cooperation with the ICRC, have registered almost 700 unaccompanied Ivorian children in seven African countries, including nearly 600 in Liberia, where there are still an estimated 100,000 refugees. The children were separated from their parents as they fled the conflict. More than half of them have been able to restore contact with their families. Furthermore, more than 220 requests for family reunification have been received in Côte d'Ivoire.

"When we manage to find the parents, we ask them if they want us to bring back their children, and then we ask the children if they agree to be taken back to their parents," explained Albert Jamah, the head of ICRC tracing activities in Liberia. "The reunification has to be in the best interest of the child. The child's security is one of the main concerns."

To date, some 230 Ivorian children who had been refugees in Liberia and Guinea have been reunited with their families. Forty-three of them were returned to the care of their families by the Red Cross, including 35 who stayed in Liberia. Seventy-five other children have agreed to be reunited with their families.

"We are doing all we can to reunite as many families as possible," said Mr Jamah. "We have facilitated over 7,000 phone calls and collected some 2,100 Red Cross messages to ensure that refugees and their loved ones can communicate with each other."

Improved water and sanitation for 85,000 people in Liberia

In addition to the support it has provided for refugees, the Red Cross has assisted the Liberian host communities so as to compensate them for the resources they have shared with the refugees and to spur on their willingness to help. In 2011, 85,000 refugees and Liberians benefited from wells, latrines and bathhouses built by the Red Cross and 3,000 Liberian farmers received seed, tools and food enabling them to survive the "hunger season."

Visits to people detained in Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia

The ICRC visits all persons detained in the places it goes to in Côte d'Ivoire. In confidential dialogue with the detaining authorities, it strives to find solutions to the humanitarian problems it encounters. Since January 2011, ICRC delegates have visited more than 10,500 people held in over 100 places of detention throughout the territory of Côte d'Ivoire. During these visits, the ICRC followed up individually on the cases of 537 security detainees.

The ICRC also visits people held in connection with the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire in various places in Liberia, including in the Bong County internment camp opened in June 2011.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the ICRC also regularly organizes activities promoting its work and the principles of international humanitarian law. In October 2011, for example, it raised awareness of the rules of this field of law among more than 540 weapon bearers. In addition, the ICRC strives to draw the attention of students and academic staff in the country to issues of international humanitarian law.

More than 280 people now work for the ICRC in Côte d'Ivoire.

For further information, please contact:
Layal Horanieh, ICRC Abidjan, tel: +225 09 39 94 04 or +225 22 40 00 70
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 536 92 50 or +41 22 730 20 11


Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire. Mobile clinics and Côte d'Ivoire Red Cross volunteers provide health care. 

Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire. Mobile clinics and Côte d'Ivoire Red Cross volunteers provide health care.
© ICRC / H. Layal / v-p-ci-e-00257

Tinhou (Guiglo), Côte d’Ivoire. Rebuilding work advances. 

Tinhou (Guiglo), Côte d’Ivoire. Rebuilding work advances.
© ICRC / F. Coloni / v-p-ci-e-00256

Ligaleu (Zouan-Hounien), Côte d’Ivoire. A girl is reunited with her family. 

Ligaleu (Zouan-Hounien), Côte d’Ivoire. A girl is reunited with her family.
© ICRC / G. Van Hoever / v-p-ci-e-00252

Granpain, Bangolo Department (Man), Côte d’Ivoire. Côte d'Ivoire Red Cross volunteers distribute food to displaced persons. 

Granpain, Bangolo Department (Man), Côte d’Ivoire. Côte d'Ivoire Red Cross volunteers distribute food to displaced persons.

Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire. Workers clear the coffee plantation of a family that has returned to their land. 

Guiglo, Côte d’Ivoire. Workers clear the coffee plantation of a family that has returned to their land.
© ICRC / H. Layal