COTE D'IVOIRE: UN official calls for funds to ease return of war-displaced in west

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The top UN humanitarian official in Côte d’Ivoire says aid groups urgently need funds to help head off tensions in the west, where war-displaced families returning home face insecurity, conflict with new migrant farmers working their land, and a demolished infrastructure.

“The thing is people are already moving,” Georg Charpentier, UN humanitarian coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire, told IRIN. “If these issues are not properly addressed, we’re allowing for a high potential for returning to interethnic conflict.”

As Côte d’Ivoire inches towards peace, the donor community is focusing on recovery efforts. But aid officials say the successful resettlement of populations in the west – a region long fraught with interethnic hostilities and land disputes – will require continued humanitarian intervention.

“Humanitarian issues are still very evident for the return of the displaced,” said Regina Davis, West and North Africa adviser for the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, who recently spent time in western Côte d’Ivoire meeting displaced families and local communities. “It’s definitely not finished by any stretch.”

Donor and aid representatives on a 10-12 July mission to the west said among the most pressing needs for returnees are food and shelter; potable water; housing; road repairs; and protection for people who still fear for their safety in the volatile region. As important, aid officials say, are ongoing activities to facilitate reconciliation meetings between displaced families and local communities.

Humanitarian officials and donor representatives met displaced and local families and local officials to discuss what needs to be done to facilitate an orderly and sustainable return of the war-displaced.

“Donors think, and rightly so for the most part, that Côte d’Ivoire is in the recovery phase. In most parts of the country that is the case,” Charpentier said. “But we’re calling to the attention of donors that there are complex and complicated issues in the west. We need to support proper protection and monitoring activities to avoid conflict.”


Thousands of West African migrants – whose families have been working the land in Côte d’Ivoire for generations – were forced off coffee and cocoa plantations in the west following the 2002 rebellion. Some violence was linked to the country’s civil unrest and some to longstanding land and ethnic disputes.

In some cases displaced groups – some immigrants, some Ivorian nationals – are having difficulty returning to the plantations where they worked because new migrant farmers are now working the land, aid officials said. This situation complicates already complex land tenure issues that have yet to be addressed in the region, they said.

An account of the mission notes that the successful return of war-displaced was cited as a priority in the 4 March Ouagadougou peace accord, signed by President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro. “The Ivorian government and the international community must urgently agree on a common strategy to tackle the deep problems of displaced populations”, including land tenure and property issues, the document says.


While roads, food, water and shelter top the list of humanitarian needs, assisting with less tangible elements is also paramount, aid officials told IRIN. The UN, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and other groups are facilitating meetings between displaced people and traditional leaders to discuss reconciliation. The meetings often include “pardon ceremonies”.

IOM is seeking urgent funding in part to continue these “go and see” meetings, which aid officials say are crucial for the social cohesion that will have to take hold in order for the region to achieve stability. The IOM’s Jacques Seurt said: “We have to put the people face to face.”

Source: IRIN