Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ivory Coast: churches filling up -- with refugees.

While Ivory Coast seems to have disappeared out of the news, the situation for Christians remains absolutely dire.

Here are just a few articles that describe something of what Christians are facing in the new Françafrique Côte d'Ivoire.

Abidjan

On 8 April, the BBC reported that some 1,800 people were holed up inside Abidjan's St Paul's Cathedral.

Father Augustin Obrou, spokesman for the archdiocese of Abidjan, described the situation inside:

"There are almost 1,800 people here, among them women and children who live locally, civil servants and employees who have been unable to return home because of the violence and have nowhere else to go.

"We've had no running water for a week now, and we have babies here, as well as people who have been shot and pregnant women. . . But we are not alone in this situation - other local churches have a similar number of refugees.

"People can't leave because there is no transport. Even if you have a car you are afraid of being shot at, and if you go on foot you can also get attacked. Also people can't be sure that their houses haven't been looted, and many neighbourhoods are too dangerous right now. Generally people are traumatised, so they don't speak much . . .

". . . we are coping by digging water out with long pipes, but it's difficult and people come to fill their buckets from the only pipe working. Those who came with food eat, and those who are from this area rush out and look for whatever food they can get and rush back to the cathedral. And as priests we share, but we only eat the bare minimum to survive.

"It's a very difficult humanitarian situation.

"The other problem is that we have no medicines, and many are unwell, but we can only watch them suffer."

Here is how Daniel Howden, in Abidjan for The Independent, reported the situation on 14 April (nearly one week later).

"Abidjan's cathedral rises like a white harp from the hillside above the city's lagoon. While fighting raged all around it for the past fortnight in the Plateau district more than 2,400 people sheltered inside.

"Now the war is supposed to be over but most of the refugees have chosen to remain. There has been no water for two weeks and almost no food either. Wounded people lie untreated and the old and sick are without medicine.

"Father Jean Baptiste Akwadan is surprised that there hasn't been more help: 'There's been nothing from the government or international agencies,' he says. . .

"Agnes Yaba, a young woman from the war-torn neighbourhood of Abobo, gave birth among the Cathedral pews two days ago. She named her new son Paul, and he now faces an uncertain future."

San Pedro

As mentioned in the previous post A Cry from Abidjan, some 5,000 residents of the southern port city of San Pedro -- Bete, Guere and other tribes that support Gbagbo -- having escaped pro-Ouattara militias, had taken refuge in the Cathedral of St Pierre.

Meanwhile in Duékoué

Some 27,000 ethnic Guéré (a western tribe that supports Laurent Gbagbo and is predominantly Christian) remain holed up the Catholic mission in Duékoué. According to Father Cyprien Ahouré, head of the mission, the mission desperately needs assistance, for they are only really capable of caring for about 1,000 people.

These people survived the 28-29 March ethnic-religious cleansing by pro-Ouattara ethnic Malinké and Baoulé Muslim militias -- a pogrom in which an estimate 800 civilians were slaughtered. Now however, their children are dying of diarrhoea and other treatable diseases while a cholera outbreak looms. And as if things could not get worse, it is simply too dangerous to leave the compound to bury the dead. Women with shaved heads are everywhere.

COTE D'IVOIRE: Mourning and fear in Duékoué
IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Reporting from DUEKOUE, 15 April 2011.

Bah Bonao Sidonie's (41) one-year-old grandson recently died at the mission after a short bout of diarrhoea. IRIN reports: "Bah had already shaved her head when her grandson died. Three of her brothers had also been killed in Duékoué’s Carréfour neighbourhood in March 'when the soldiers [anti-Gbagbo forces] came'. She buried the child herself, alone.

" 'I asked people living here at the mission, as well as the blue helmets, to accompany me to bury my grandson, but I went hours without getting any help,' she told IRIN. 'The youth here at the mission risk being attacked by the Dioula [Malinké] so they can’t go out. I put the child’s body on my back and walked to [the cemetery near] Carréfour; only God accompanied me. I prayed to God to protect me,' she added. 'I dug a hole with a `daba’ [traditional hoe], buried the child, said a prayer and came back.'"

A report from the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, tells of the plight of other survivors who, after escaping pro-Ouattara militias, fled towards the Liberian border.

Alarming IDP conditions in western Côte d'Ivoire; reconciliation needed
Briefing Notes, 15 April 2011

"In western Côte d'Ivoire, and with the security situation apparently calming, our staff are reporting large groups of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in alarming humanitarian conditions. . .

". . . a UNHCR team recently visited the department of Zouhan-Hounien and one of its sub-prefectures, Bin Houye, near the border with Liberia, They met more than 1,000 displaced people mainly originating from Guiglo, Blolequin and Toulepleu [towns also attacked by pro-Ouattara militias]. Some were staying on the premises of a Catholic church and the Ivorian Red Cross in Zouhan-Hounien. . .

"Meanwhile, nearly 6,000 Ivorians have crossed into neighbouring Liberia's Grand Gedeh county since Monday. As supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, these ethnic Guéré refugees – who had been waiting on the border for weeks – said they crossed into Liberia by foot following news of Gbagbo's arrest and reports of reprisal [read: ethnic-religious] attacks in Abidjan. Some arrived in Liberia malnourished. . .

"With this week's new influx, there are now more than 150,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, in addition to over 13,000 hosted in other West African countries.