Thousands Flee Abidjan as Violence Intensifies in Côte d’Ivoire – UN

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–22 March 2011 – Thousands of residents of Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital, Abidjan, have been flocking to bus stations seeking transport out of the city fearing that an all-out war is in the offing after an escalation of violence, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

As many as 30 unarmed civilians were killed and 60 others were wounded when the market in Abidjan’s northern suburb of Abobo was attacked with mortar shells on Thursday, according to the UN peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, which is known as UNOCI.

The shelling was carried out by members of the Ivorian Defense and Security Forces (FDSCI), who are loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo, who lost a UN-certified and internationally recognized election to the opposition figure Alassane Ouattara last November, but has since refused to step down. Abobo is considered a stronghold of supporters of Mr. Ouattara.

During the weekend and on Monday, monitors with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) saw thousands of people trying to leave from Adjame and Yopougon bus terminals in Abidjan. Many families slept there in a desperate bid to secure seats in departing vehicles.

Some of those fleeing said they had decided to leave following an appeal on Saturday by the pro-Gbagbo youth leader, Charles Blé Goudé, who urged civilians to join the ranks of the armed forces. Thousands of youths have reportedly responded to the appeal, which those departing Abidjan have interpreted as a declaration of war.

The bus stations were already crowded with families seeking to leave Abidjan amid the intensifying violence. The cost of transportation has risen sharply, according to a humanitarian partner whose staff have received requests from internally displaced persons (IDPs) to help them leave Abidjan. An estimated 300,000 people in Abidjan are displaced, many of them former residents of Abobo.

Many IDPs are heading to the north and east of the country, and families who made it to those areas told UNHCR staff by telephone that the humanitarian situation there is becoming increasingly difficult for them and their hosts.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners have completed setting up of the first IDP site in the western town of Danane. Over the weekend, 778 displaced people were relocated to the site from a nearby primary school. Two other IDP sites are being rehabilitated in Danane, where an estimated 5,000 people were displaced by violence earlier this year.

The Ivorian crisis has also affected some 24,000 Liberian refugees who have been living in Abidjan for nearly two decades. Some of them have signed up for repatriation to Liberia and the first UNHCR-organized airlift of 171 returnees took place on Saturday.