By Peter Kenny
Geneva — Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara may have claimed victory in an election boycotted by the opposition to give himself a third-term, but it has sparked clashes in the country which have triggered a flow of refugees into neighbouring countries.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on 3 November that several thousand people have fled from Cote d’Ivoire into neighbouring nations after the presidential election sparked violent clashes.
“Ivorians are fleeing to neighbouring countries as they fear post-electoral violence,” UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov told a bi-weekly UN media briefing in Geneva.
“Violent clashes erupted after the presidential election which was held on 31 October leaving at least a dozen dead and many more injured, according to the latest reports,” said Cheshirkov.
Ouattara declared winner
News reports said the preceding day that the Ivorian electoral commission had provisionally declared 78-year-old incumbent Ouattara the winner, with 94.27 per cent of the vote on a turnout of 53.9 percent.
The tension over the election stemmed from Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term after he said he would step down after two, and that spurred the two main opposition parties to call for a boycott.
Ahead of the election, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged all political leaders to “refrain from inciting violence, spreading misinformation and using hate speech” and to resolve any disputes through dialogue.
“As of 2 November, more than 3,200 Ivorian refugees had arrived in Liberia, Ghana and Togo. What we have seen is that the majority of those coming across the border are women and children.
Liberia and Ghana
“More than half of those that have come into Liberia and Ghana have been children. The newly arrived include former Ivorian refugees who had recently repatriated and were forced to flee once again,” Cheshirkov said.
He expressed the refugee agency’s gratitude to the three neighbouring countries for keeping their borders open despite the COVID-19 pandemic and said UNHCR was making contingency plans in the case the numbers fleeing climbs.
“We are still trying to assess the profile of the people and why they are moving as they are right now. That is why we are boosting our capacity and deploying staff,” said the UNHCR official.
He said the arrivals of refugees had accelerated.
“In 24 hours, we registered 1,000 refugees coming into Liberia. That’s for a total of 2,600. Some of those people had come into the country in the days preceding the election,” said Cheshirkov.
The UNHCR is also working with Ghana and Togo on contingency plans, should the situation worsen, and should more people start to come across the border.
“What we have seen is that already there have been reports of a dozen or more dead and many more occurred.
“And we know that people are looking back to the 2010-11 period when there was violence, which at that time, led to 3,000 dead, more than 300,000 refugees fleeing in the region and around 1 million displaced.”
Last week Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the Ivorian government to ensure accountability after reports that at least 20 people had been killed in inter-communal clashes and in confrontations between security forces and supporters of opposition parties in several localities in the run-up to the 31 October poll.
“In various opposition demonstrations in other towns and in the capital Abidjan, unidentified individuals assaulted, threatened and intimidated protestors using machetes and knives with apparent impunity.
“On some occasions, voting stations were damaged, people’s voting cards destroyed, and private businesses were looted,” said Shamdasani.
“Given the history of electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire, we appeal to all parties to refrain from using discriminatory and provocative language along ethnic affiliations that could lead to more divisions in society and, ultimately, to violence,” said Shamdasani.