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The news is full of Libya. And it’s a frightening situation for everyone on the ground. But meanwhile, in Cote d’Ivoire, civil war has broken out.
At present, more than 700,000 people have fled their homes because of growing instability and conflict between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo - who refuses to leave office - and the winner of the 2010 presidential election, Alassane Outtara.
At present Outtara is attempting to run a government out of the Golf Hotel in Cote d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan. But as the UN tries to protect him and his cabinet, the increasing violence is throwing the country into economic meltdown.
The regional central bank which is based in neighbouring Senegal has frozen Gbagbo’s access to state accounts; many schools and health centres are shut and in some areas, 90 per cent of qualified medical staff and teachers remain unpaid and are not reporting for work. Numerous banks and businesses are also closed because of security fears and the European Union has prohibited European ships from docking in Cote d’Ivoire’s ports.
The cost of basic food supplies is escalating. Disruption to cocoa production and a month long ban on Ivorian cocoa exports has led to a rise in the international price of cocoa.
More than 90,000 refugees have crossed the border into Liberia – one of the poorest nations in the world – and many are citing the high risk of sexual violence and the fear of forced conscription as the reason for fleeing their homes. The UN estimates that more than 400 people have been killed.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the majority of refugees have been welcomed by Liberian families who are sharing their shelter, food and land with their new guests. As in so many situations, it is local people who bear the brunt of the political power struggle. The population along the Liberian-Cote d’Ivoire border is chronically poor and most eke out a living as subsistence farmers.
I heard this story from a colleague who has just returned from Liberia: “I met a woman called Ann who lives in a place called Glarlay in Liberia. When her country was suffering civil war, Ann became homeless. To get away from the violence and the fear, she fled over the border to Cote d’Ivoire. When she got there she was taken in by husband and wife Kasong and Suwopaing, and lived with them and their two children until it was safe to go back home.
“Now Kasong and Suwopaing’s country is in a terrifying state. So they decided to flee across the border with their children into Liberia to get away from the conflict. And they turned up on Ann’s doorstep, and she took them in. Despite having five grandchildren to feed, Ann is sharing her home, food and land with the couple who showed her such kindness when she was in need.”
There have been attempts to resolve the political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire by the African Union in conjunction with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, but to no avail. The escalating crisis is having an increasingly devastating impact on ordinary women men and children. With increasingly fierce fighting in Abidjan, parts of the city are rapidly becoming no-go areas and families are fleeing to safer neighbourhoods.
The growing number of homeless people is placing severe pressure on the host families they are staying with, as the economy grinds to halt, banks remain mostly closed and shops are running low on food and other provisions.
Right now CAFOD has pledged £100,000 to help support host families on the Liberia-Cote d’Ivoire border – to buy pots and pans, mattresses, blankets and seeds to grow more food. But with so many people crossing the border into Liberia the ability to absorb Ivorian refugees into communities is at breaking point.
People need more loos, more food, more shelter. And children and other vulnerable groups need to be kept safe and secure. On top of everything, the region has its rainy season on the horizon which will make everything harder – for people on the ground and for agencies to deliver aid.
If Libya is a crisis that warrants international intervention, what do the people of Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia deserve? While the eyes of the world and its media are on the no-fly zone, the situation in West Africa is at breaking point.
The international community must support the brokering of a peaceful solution to the crisis; the UN must look at better ways for its peacekeeping mission to be able to protect the civilian population; international humanitarian donors must provide funding to address the growing humanitarian crisis inside Cote d’Ivoire and to help the refugees who have fled to Liberia.
To help CAFOD help Liberian host families help Ivorian refugees: http://bit.ly/dNRqvp
(c) Pascale Palmer is Policy Media Officer for CAFOD (www.cafod.org.uk)Tweet