Displaced people in Ivory Coast image UNICEF
A Catholic mission in Ivory Coast is sheltering more than 30,000 people fleeing the fighting, a missionary has told the BBC World Service. People have been arriving with gunshot wounds, a priest in Duékoué said. He appealed for international support and protection for the centre.
The priest who doesn't want to be named, said many of the refugees were migrant workers from other West African countries.
As he spoke to the BBC on Tuesday morning, the priest said he was hiding under a table because shooting could be heard outside. "We're hearing the fighting... in front of the church, and people are inside the church and they are running around inside," he said.
He appealed for his mission to be treated as a safe haven by all the fighting forces and says there is not enough food or sanitation for those inside.
The UN has said that "robust patrols" have been deployed to protect the mission.
Nearly all of these internally displaced persons, or IDPs, fled their homes during violent clashes that erupted earlier this month—part of a national crisis that has gripped Ivory Coast since elections were held in late November.
"UNICEF has been assisting the IDPs from the beginning of the crisis, driving through military checkpoints while delivering life-saving assistance to highly vulnerable communities," said UNICEF Ivory Coast Officer-in-Charge Sylvie Dossou. "UNICEF staff and our partners have been working on the front lines of this crisis to save many, many young lives."
Homes were looted and burned to the ground during the recent violence, and many of the displaced families now have few, if any, possessions.
"UNICEF is providing blankets, sleeping mats, insecticide-treated bed nets, high-protein biscuits, and is working to unify children who became separated from their families," said Dr. Eli Ramamonjisoa, who is acting as team leader of UNICEF's field office in Man.
That office is overseeing relief efforts to displacement camps in three towns in western Ivory Coast: Danané, Duékoué and Man. Last week, for example, UNICEF supplied a 1,300-gallon tank providing urgently needed water storage to the camp in Man.