Four months into the Ivorian conflict, humanitarian needs remain enormous although "funds are not forthcoming", aid agencies said on Wednesday. Displacement has continued to take place in various parts of the country rendering more and more people vulnerable and in desperate conditions.
During a visit by the United Nations humanitarian envoy for Cote d'Ivoire Carolyn McAskie this week to central and western parts of the country, humanitarian workers said that medicines, food, shelter, education, money and transport were the immediate needs of those displaced and by extension, the host communities. "The humanitarian situation is still critical," she told IRIN.
On Tuesday, the mayor's office in the western town of Guiglo received some 400 new arrivals while in the Ivorian capital, Yamoussoukro, another 225 people had arrived at the Mie-N'gou centre the same day.
"I left Bouake [central Cote d'Ivoire] and went first to Man [in the west] and then I arrived here [Yamoussoukro] on Tuesday," an emaciated and fatigued old granny, Ahoua told McAskie at the Mie-N'gou transit centre.
The rooms at the centre are beyond their accommodation capacities and tens of the new arrivals, including children were living in the open. The sanitation was very poor. Majority of those at this centre came from Bouake.
At the mayor's office, work stopped at the end of November with the arrival of displaced persons from the western towns of Toulepleu, Touba, Man, Blolequin, Duekoue and Danane.
The sites were saturated and most of the displaced move on within the first week of their stay. Some of them move in with relatives or friends in the host communities. However, the majority have Abidjan as their final destination, although some don't have relatives in that city.
The refugees most affected by the Ivorian crisis are the Liberians of whom most lived in the western Zone d'Accueil des Refugies (ZAR). It was here that two new rebel groups emerged towards the end of November.
On Wednesday, about 7,000 refugees at the Nicla camp near Guiglo desperately appealed to the international community to come to their rescue "before it is too late". The refugees waved placards, some which bore the words: "UN do you want Nicla refugees to perish before evacuation?" "UNHCR our lives are in your hands", and another, "UNHCR take us out before we get massacred".
"I am very glad to be here but I am very sad to see you in this situation. Your situation touches me deeply," McAskie told the refugees. She said she would raise with regional heads of state whom she will meet during her month-long mission, the issue of opening up their countries for the relocation of Liberian refugees trapped in Cote d'Ivoire and especially those at the Nicla camp.
Concerning reports that refugees were being recruited on either side of the conflict - on the loyalist side and the rebel side, she said: "It is very important for you and for your safety that you stay away from the conflict[...] it is important that you remain innocent and also be known to be innocent. Your reputation is something you have to protect. Don't give anybody a chance to accuse you."
The protection of refugees was one of the main points of discussions McAskie held with the Ivorian authorities, including with President Laurent Gbagbo late Wednesday.
UNHCR acting representative in Abidjan, Panos Moumtzis also urged the refugees to stay out of the affairs of the country and refrain from being engaged in anyway or take sides.
"We know that many of you are faced with a very difficult situation and you are very close to the frontline. We are making efforts to relocate you and approaching other governments to take you in," he told the refugees.
Humanitarian organisations have done assessments, know the areas of needs and are trying their best to respond to the needs. Whereas access and security remains a major problem, the agencies are facing dire financial constraints in meeting the needs.
"Agencies are working under extremely difficult circumstances to meet needs and with no funds," McAskie told IRIN. "Funding remains a major constraint," she added.
The World Food Programme, United Nations Childrens Fund, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the international NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Committee of the Red Cross, CARE, CARITAS, Save the Children the local Red Cross, the Catholic church, the Islamic Relief Agency and several others, are working tirelessly to respond to the needs of the populations.
At a meeting with the humanitarian envoy in Yamoussoukro, members of the local NGO community expressed their frustrations with the international community in the response. "Whereas we are willing to help, we lack the capacity. The UN agencies who could work with us, also don't have the money," a participant said.
In an earlier interview with IRIN, McAskie had noted that most of the humanitarian agencies were not galvanised into handling an emergency situation, especially in Cote d'Ivoire since it had been a stable country. They were used to doing development work. It is now that they are refocusing their activities towards emergency response. She said there was a need for the humanitarian organisations and the donor community to work in close partnership in response to the needs of populations.
Access is another hurdle aid workers face in Cote d'Ivoire. So far, reaching the central town of Bouake controlled by the main rebel movement Mouvement Patriotique de Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI), has been fairly easy. Some agencies had set up offices in the northern town of Korhogo. The rebels assured the envoy that they would sign a document that would guarantee unimpeded passage of humanitarian agencies within their areas of jurisdiction.
The west, especially the areas around the border with Liberia, remain very volatile with aid agencies having difficulty in knowing who is in charge of the rebel movements in these areas mainly - the Justice and Peace Movement (MPJ) and the Ivorian Popular Movement of Great-West (MPIGO). "It is difficult to know from whom to ask for permission," an aid worker said.
Numerous barricades had also been erected along roads both in the government-held areas and rebel-held areas. In the latter, some are manned by youths who harass those who try to pass. It has particularly been hard for Liberian refugees who have tried to flee western part of the country, some have had their identification documents confiscated.
In Yamoussoukro, McAskie visited a children's home catering for some 17 babies who had been abandoned since the 19 September and thereafter.
During her mission and in her meetings this week, McAskie also stressed the need for respect of human rights, humanitarian law and civilian protection in general. With the Ivorian authorities she discussed reports of further demolitions of shantytowns and asked the authorities to stick to a declaration made by President Gbagbo in October, that no more shantytowns should be destroyed.
She is scheduled to visit neighbouring Ghana, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Guinea and Mali in the next weeks.