Liberia/Ivory Coast: Desperate refugees have nowhere to run

As fighting and insecurity intensify in Liberia, Amnesty International is today (24 June 2003) urging the international community to organise a humanitarian evacuation programme for the tens of thousands of Liberian refugees in the western part of neighbouring Ivory Coast who now have nowhere left to run.

In a report published today, No escape: Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, Amnesty International describes the hasty and panic-stricken movements of an estimated 45,000 Liberians, and thousands of other civilians, who have already fled from Ivory Coast to Liberia and then back to Ivory Coast again this year. The human rights organisation is calling for the refugees to be offered the possibility of resettlement in third countries.

The lives of the 70,000 members of the Liberian refugee community, who had successfully sought asylum in Ivory Coast after the Liberian war broke out in 1989, have been shattered by the conflict that erupted in Ivory Coast last September. The Liberian refugees, including many under-18s, have been forcibly recruited into the ranks of both the government forces and armed opposition groups. They now face a never-ending struggle to escape atrocities being committed in the fighting, avoid military recruitment and find permanent protection.

Amnesty International said:

'The Liberian refugees are the victims of atrocities committed by the various parties to the conflict, who mistreat them, loot their possessions, and sometimes forcibly recruit them into their ranks, while at the same time accusing them of supporting their opponents. They cannot return to Liberia, where the situation gets worse every day, and no other neighbouring country seems disposed to welcome them.'

The report includes accounts from many Liberian refugees interviewed by a recent Amnesty International delegation to the area, which reveal why many of the refugees feel they have no escape from the situation they find themselves in. Some reported being turned away from hospitals by staff who refused to treat them, others talked of being harassed by the police and claimed that the security forces had a 'shoot to kill' policy.

An immediate and major effort by the international community is essential if this crisis, in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything, is to be resolved. The international community has been slow to react however, despite the efforts of the UNHCR, the World Food Programme and UNICEF. The United Nations has launched several appeals for funds, but the sums collected are so far derisory in relation to the enormous needs created by what is one of the world's most serious current humanitarian crises.

Amnesty International appeals to the Ivory Coast government and armed opposition groups operating in the country to end immediately attacks on Liberian refugees. In addition, the organisation urges the international community to find a comprehensive and long-term solution to the crisis that ensures the effective protection of Liberian refugees and others who cannot stay in the region and who should therefore be resettled elsewhere.

Background

The Liberian refugee problem is only one aspect of the terrible humanitarian crisis that has shaken Ivory Coast since the armed uprising of September 2002. The conflict has caused the massive displacement of civilians, who flee from areas where fighting is taking place.

Hundreds of thousand of people (Ivory Coast nationals as well as other people from the region, especially Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea) have had to leave their homes to escape the atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict. The number of people displaced within Ivory Coast itself is more than one and a half million according to the local authorities.

Oher people have returned to their own countries and faced further problems. Since the September 2002 uprising, about 50,000 Mali citizens and 150,000 Burkina Faso citizens have fled to Mali and Burkina Faso where they have faced serious reintegration problems, despite the efforts made by the governments and civil society in these countries. The entire region that faces a very serious humanitarian crisis.

The report can be found in the online library at: www.amnesty.org

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