COTE D'IVOIRE: Reluctant to return home
Residents of Abobo flee fighting (file photo)
ABIDJAN, 24 May 2011 (IRIN) - While outright conflict has abated in Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital, Abidjan, many of the thousands of displaced people there are still too fearful to return to once conflict-ridden neighbourhoods.
Fear of men in uniform, fear of continued arms flows, and of unexploded ordnance (UXO) is keeping Abidjan residents from returning home, displaced people told IRIN.
Arms are still circulating in some neighbourhoods, residents of Abobo and Yopougon told IRIN. These neighbourhoods saw some of the heaviest fighting between President Alassane Ouattara’s Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI), ex-President Laurent Gbagbo’s fighters, and other militia groups.
UXO has been identified by the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) in 60 sites around the city, including near hospitals, schools, businesses and in people’s homes.
On 21 May UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Union of Evangelical Churches, which is sheltering 160 displaced people in Cocody, an eastern Abidjan neighbourhood. Cecile Bla, 48, fled to the shelter from Yopougon.
Bla’s home and business - she sold cosmetics - were pillaged, leaving her with nothing. She is now baking tarts for sale to support her five children.
“I lost everything… I know I need to start a new life, but that will not be before I can be guaranteed better security.” Life is slowly returning to normal in Yopougon, and the streets are filling up, but Bla’s neighbours regularly ring her with reports of armed men turning up to the compound unannounced, leaving her scared. There have been some reports of continued, sporadic aggression committed against civilians in Yopougon and Abobo, according to the UN.
Members of the FRCI still man checkpoints in Yopougon, to keep the peace; and mixed patrols of UNOCI, French Licorne forces and ex-President Laurent Gbagbo’s gendarmerie patrol the streets of the capital; but many residents still fear, rather than trust, men in uniform.
Violence against civilian populations continues in western Côte d’Ivoire, along the Liberian border.
Displaced people in Guiglo, Bloléquin and Toulépleu in Moyen Cavally Region in the west remain hesitant to return until security improves.
Spontaneous returns have been reported in Man and Duékoué, though large numbers of displaced people remain.
Fighting in the southwest is reportedly continuing, causing some 6,000 people to flee the town of San Pedro, capital of Bas Sassandra Region, for the nearby town of Soubré.
Some who witnessed violence are still traumatized by it. Habiba Kanté, 36, stayed in the Abobo neighbourhood amid heavy fighting before fleeing to the church shelter. She now jumps in fear every time she hears a car horn.
“It’s like reliving the war. I know I need to restart a new life and that I must return, but I can’t do that until I get a guarantee that it is safe, and that guns are no longer in circulation in the streets,” she told IRIN.
Pastor Michel Loh, who is running the church shelter, is trying to help children recover by setting up a temporary school for them. Schooling can be instrumental in the psychosocial recovery of children in conflict. Kané’s seven-year-old daughter, Aisha Diakité, may make up the school year rather than having to skip a year, said Loh.
To enable people to return home, a joint UNOCI and FRCI team is trying to clear sites of unexploded bombs, grenades and mines, according to UNOCI spokesperson Hamadoun Touré. Some 40 sites have been cleared out of a total of 60 reported thus far, though sightings continue to rise, said UNOCI’s Col Rayes Koshavsky.
The team will clear sites outside Abidjan once they have cleared the commercial capital of ordnance, said Touré.
Ban Ki-moon and local UN Refugee Agency head Jacques Franquin stressed that in the meantime, there is no hurry to return. “No one will be forced to return until they are ready,” Ban told displaced families. “Many of you have lost everything, and have witnessed terrible atrocities. You must heal so that you can try to relive a normal life.”
Theme (s): Conflict, Migration, Refugees/IDPs, Security, Urban Risk,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]