Some 2,000 people, mostly women and children, from Côte d'Ivoire have entered neighbouring Liberia and Guinea amid the political deadlock precipitated by the dispute over the results of the Ivorian presidential elections, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is monitoring the situation in and around Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire's commercial capital, and is enhancing response preparedness should the movement of people out of the country increase, the agency's spokesperson in Geneva, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters.
"We hope that Ivorian leaders will resolve the crisis peacefully," he said.
An estimated 1,700 people crossed into Nimba County in north-eastern Liberia, while another 200 arrived in Guinea's Nzerekore region showing signs of exhaustion after having walked for two days, according to figures provided by authorities in the two countries.
The Security Council on Wednesday endorsed opposition leader Alassane Ouattara's victory in Côte d'Ivoire's presidential elections, despite outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo's claim to have won. The Council also warned of "targeted measures" against anybody threatening the peace process in the divided country.
"The refugees all fled from villages located between the towns of Danane and Guiglo in western Côte d'Ivoire," Mr. Mahecic said. "They told UNHCR their movement was precautionary, prompted by fears of instability and violence as the political deadlock persists," he added.
A first group of 300 refugees reached Liberia on 29 November, a day after the run-off presidential elections. Guinea started registering arrivals on Wednesday.
UNHCR teams are currently visiting the refugees in both countries. They are scattered in isolated and poor border villages, hosted by local communities which have been generously sharing their resources.
"Our teams touring the border areas are registering the new arrivals and assessing their conditions in order to respond to their most pressing needs," Mr. Mahecic said.
"Most of the Ivorian asylum-seekers are in good physical condition, but they urgently need food and shelter to ease the pressure on the local communities hosting them. They also need clean drinking water, clothing and basic cooking and hygiene items."
Even before the political current crisis, UNHCR was already assisting some 13,000 Ivorian refugees who fled the 2002 civil war in their country. They include 6,000 in Liberia, 4,000 in Guinea and 2,000 in Mali.
Inside Côte d'Ivoire, UNHCR is assisting some 25,000 refugees, mainly from Liberia, and 35,000 internally displaced persons.