Côte d'Ivoire: the internally displaced – so close and yet so far from home
The fighting over the past two weeks in Abidjan has forced thousands to flee their homes for safer neighborhoods, where the ICRC is helping many of them cope.
"Please take at least one of my children. You could adopt him and give him a better life. I simply cannot take care of my ten children in this situation anymore."
That was the heart-wrenching plea of one of the displaced mothers the ICRC's delegates met today in Anyama. It illustrates the desperation of some of the people who have fled the fighting in their neighbourhoods and have been living hand-to-mouth for the past two weeks, either with relatives or in community centres.
This is the case of Mr Laurent Dadie, director of a private school, who is currently staying in a frugal little room designed for a single nun at Notre Dame d'Anyama with his family of ten, dependent on aid from the church and the ICRC.
Banks shut down
"I'll never forget that night; there was gunfire all around us. An explosion even blew a hole into the wall of my house!" recalls Mr. Dadie. "When dawn broke and the fighting died down, I took my family and ran. We eventually made it here (Notre Dame), with nothing but the clothes on our backs and the money I had in my pocket at the time. Because the banks are no longer operational, I have not been able to draw on my account since. We live here day by day, waiting for some kind of outcome to this crisis."
Help brings some relief
He is happy that the ICRC has provided Notre Dame with goods to cater to the community's basic needs like medicine, soap, blankets, buckets, etc., but he would not need such help if only the crisis would end.
"I am a school director. I have never had to rely on charity before. It is a very difficult situation to find myself in, especially when my children ask me for things. I don't think they fully understand the situation. Sometimes I don't either."
Notre Dame has helped more than 2,500 diplaced people like Mr. Dadie over the last two weeks. Most only transit through such centres, before heading for relatives' homes. Today, a little more than a hundred remain. Most have moved on.
In another part of town, Anyama's main mosque has catered for no less than 4,000 displaced people since the crisis started, several hundred of whom are still living in the mosque's communal hall and its surroundings. Many more, who have found a place to stay in the neighbourhood, still come for daily meals.
Crisis is causing impoverishment
Most were not well-off to begin with. They are now impoverished. They cannot go to the bank, they cannot work and they cannot go home. Such is the lot of Mariam Sankara, mother of a boy with a chronic health condition, who just does not know what to do with herself all day.
"We are living in limbo here," she complains. "The mosque feeds us every day, but that is all they can do. It is not life. We are just waiting, waiting, waiting. It's unbearable."
She is happy to at least have found this shelter though. She still remembers the fear of the night she fled Abobo.
"It was like in one of those American war films, with explosions everywhere and people running around with machine guns. Only this was not TV – it was my own neighbourhood!"
The ICRC has assisted five community centres like Notre Dame and the Anyama mosque, not only in Abobo, but also in Adjamé, Angré and Yopougon, to help them handle the influx of people who have sought refuge from the violence unfolding in Abidjan.
These displaced people are only a few miles from their homes, but it might as well be another country as long as violence and fear prevent them from returning. They are so close, and yet so far.