The vast majority of refugees say they cannot envisage returning home within the next six months – many said they could not imagine returning within the year – unless a clear plan to improve security in western Ivory Coast is put in place.
All over Janzon Axis, a village about 20km from Zwedru, capital of Grand Geddeh county, Ivorians are busy building simple wooden houses. Around 29,000 Ivorians have settled here in recent months, quadrupling the village’s population.
A move into camps
But the UNHCR wants to move the bulk of the refugee population into camps by the end of the year. The plan is to settle 80,000 people across four camps; while 30,000 will remain in villages, and a predicted 30,000 will return to Ivory Coast.
Several Ivorians in Janzon Axis said they did not want to move to a camp. “Here, we can cross the border to check our land … and here we can live in our own houses,” said Georgette Blo.
Refugees want to be self-sufficient said Marselline Blé, who arrived in March, but to do that they need some basics. “We still have no cooking pots and don’t have enough plates to serve food from,” she said. “We don’t have enough clothes to put on.” Most Ivorians lack sufficient clothing and many arrived without shoes.
In Solo refugee camp, about 15km from Zwedru, where 6,090 Ivorians are sheltering, those who have been given jobs are pleased. Justin is a refugee co-ordinator who worked for the NGO Caritas in Ivory Coast. “I am happy to be working, though it would be nice to earn some small money,” he said.
Sitting beside him, Yvonne Shion said she used to work as a tailor in Guiglo. “If I could just get hold of a machine, I could start working again.”
Most refugees here have nothing but the food they are given – rice, oil and beans. Those who arrived with modest resources have set up stalls selling condiments in short supply – salt, sugar and pepper sauce.
In one corner of the camp, youngsters are playing football. In another, children are in class. “When children have experienced trauma, school can bring them together and de-stress them, and help them to develop and return to normalcy,” said the education co-ordinator for Save the Children, Khrishnakumer Palanisamy.
Some 447 children are now enrolled in six primary grades. Justin Pouho was a retired teacher in Toulepleu but is now trying to control a class of around 30 rambunctious nine-year-olds. “We have to continue working. We are qualified. We saw the children suffering and we didn’t want them to live without learning,” he said.
“They are now adapting. At first many of the children were sitting around, looking pensive, stuck in their thoughts … Some were violent with their friends. Now they are starting to talk to us. We are seeing them start to play … They seem happier here.”
There is no funding as yet for a secondary school, leaving teenagers and youths with little to do. Michael Manhan, 18, who came to Solo with his aunt (he does not know where his parents are), said: “I try to find some small work to feed my aunt, but I have nothing else to do all day. I’d like to study for my bac [baccalaureate].”