Baltimore, Maryland. - Catholic Relief Service is working to provide immediate aid to over 100,000 refugees who've fled the Ivory Coast amid rising political turmoil in the country.
“The two main needs are shelter and food,” Brian Gleeson, the relief agency's West Africa representative, told CNA March 30.
The Ivory Coast is on the brink of civil war, with outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo recruiting thousands of young people to fight on his behalf against domestic and international backers of his rival, president-elect Alassane Ouattara.
Gleeson said that since the presidential election in the country last November, violence has already claimed hundreds of lives and forced over 1 million people from their homes.
With offices in neighboring Liberia, where most refugees have fled, Catholic Relief Services is in the process of constructing 1,000 shelters in eight villages, which will provide housing for 5,000 people.
The agency reported that most of the refugees have arrived in the border towns of Nimba County, where there are few housing options. The displaced often find themselves in overcrowded homes of host families, sleep outdoors exposed to the elements and lack basic needs such as cooking utensils or showers.
The relief organization is also working to provide immediate food aid to refugees and plans to help Liberian host communities and refugee families prepare land to grow rice.
The country's deteriorating situation is of such concern to Pope Benedict XVI that he sent a top African official from the Vatican to plead for peace.
During his general audience on March 30, the Pope said that the Ivory Coast has been “traumatized by painful internal conflicts and grave social and political tensions.”
On the Pope's behalf, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, traveled to the country and will urge political leaders to end the violence.
Gleeson observed that “the hope was that this presidential election would end what has been a 10 year conflict.”
However, he added, rather than resolve a decade of tension, the current situation has devolved into “a stalemate, where the internationally recognized winner of the election has not been able to occupy office.”
The situation has “been simmering since November and I think what you're seeing now is just a growing frustration at the refusal of either side to budge,” Gleeson said.
“Elements on both sides are willing to take up arms, having given up hope of dialogue resolving this situation.”
Gleeson said that despite great support for president-elect Alassane Ouattara among neighboring countries as well as international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, there has been “literally no movement.”
“The general analysis is that this is on a slope downward and unless there's a change of heart on the part of Gbagbo this is not going in a good direction.”
A U.N. resolution calling for tighter sanctions against Gbagbo was drafted in Paris last week and the International Crisis Group – a global non-profit that works for conflict resolution – has urged U.N. military intervention.