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Ivory Coast volatile; 1 million flee homes
Charles Braddix, Baptist Press
April 01, 2011
6 MIN READ TIME

Ivory Coast volatile; 1 million flee homes

Ivory Coast volatile; 1 million flee homes
Charles Braddix, Baptist Press
April 01, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory

Coast — As violence escalates between

opposing political factions in Ivory Coast,

this once-thriving nation is being pushed to the brink not only of a civil war

but a humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations reports that civilians are being attacked and killed by

armed forces, while up to 1 million people have fled their homes to safer

areas, including neighboring countries Liberia, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso,

Guinea and Mauritania. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

reports that at least 400,000 of Ivory Coast’s

1 million displaced civilians are now refugees in neighboring countries.

Baptist Global Response (BGR) is attempting

to assess prospects for a humanitarian response, a process made more difficult

by the lack of Southern Baptist personnel in the country, a BGR

spokesman said. International Mission Board (IMB) personnel are key partners

for the BGR international relief and

development organization in crisis situations, and IMB missionaries and their

families assigned to Ivory Coast have been relocated outside of the country as

a result of violence stemming from last November’s disputed presidential

election.

BP file photo by Charles Braddix

Once-thriving markets in Ivory Coast’s capital city, Abidjan, are now facing severe shortages. The escalating political situation there has created a humanitarian and economic crisis.

“All of our IMB personnel that are based in Ivory

Coast have been … relocated to neighboring

countries until the current crisis ends,” said Stephen Haber, IMB director of

personnel support for Sub-Saharan Africa. “From those areas they continue to

engage people with the gospel with the hopes of returning to Ivory

Coast soon.”

Scott Bradford, an IMB strategy leader for part of western Africa,

including Ivory Coast,

said IMB personnel “desperately want to be back there to encourage and minister

to folks face-to-face and not from a distance. Unfortunately the situation is

becoming more volatile each day.”

Some Christians in Ivory Coast

wonder “what God is doing,” Bradford said. “One of the

believers said they cannot sleep at night because of the fighting going on

outside. I am sure each is suffering and am certain there are those who feel

abandoned and are wondering why is this happening…, what God is doing and how

He is working through this.”

IMB missionary Jerry Robertson, who recently left Ivory

Coast and is now in Ghana,

said, “The people in Abidjan are

going to start starving soon. People outside the city who farm will be OK, but

pretty soon the people in the city are going to be starving.”

Dominique Dah, pastor of Treichville Baptist

Church in Abidjan,

Ivory Coast’s capital,

said people are arriving off the street seeking assistance. Food is scarce, he

said, and people are having problems accessing their money from local banks.

The church is located six miles from the troubled areas of the city.

Members of Baptist churches throughout Ivory

Coast continue to “meet, fast and pray,”

Robertson said. “The Baptist churches I know have a big emphasis on prayer.

They don’t have vast numbers, and they’ve seen mass demonstrations just get

people killed. They believe the resolution has got to come through prayer.”

The situation creates a crisis for international relief agencies, since funding

to assist the refugees is alarmingly low, relief officials say.

“The situation in Ivory Coast

is one of the forgotten crises going on in the world, with the U.N. begging for

funding,” said Mark Hatfield, Baptist Global Response director for Sub-Saharan

Africa. “I think they have received somewhere in the ballpark of 25 percent of

their requests for funds. They are seeing the number of people fleeing troubled

areas grow daily.”

Hatfield described the situation as “one of those manmade disasters that many

people write off as just another African political crisis.” He indicated that a

BGR assessment team would be needed to

decide what kind of response might be called for from Southern Baptists.

If BGR were to help provide relief, there

would need to be Southern Baptist personnel on the ground to coordinate the

efforts, Hatfield said.

Among the humanitarian crises unfolding in Ivory

Coast, 30,000 people are trapped in a

Catholic church compound in the southwestern town of Duekoue

after fleeing clashes between opposing armies, according to the BBC.

Many arrived at the compound with gunshot wounds, and a majority of those

seeking refuge are migrants from nearby countries who have been working in Ivory

Coast, the BBC

reported.

Ivory Coast’s

president-elect, Alassane Ouattara, asked the U.N. in late March to provide “legitimate

force” to protect civilians, saying his opponent, Laurent Gbagbo, has unleashed

his army on the country’s population. This followed a mortar attack conducted

by Gbagbo forces that killed 25 people in Abidjan.

Gbagbo refuses to cede the presidency after losing to Ouattara in last November’s

presidential election.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also appealed for U.N.

intervention, while the African Union is making attempts to negotiate a

settlement. The international community, including the U.N. and the United

States, recognizes Ouattara as Ivory

Coast’s legitimate president.

In an address to the people of Ivory Coast

in late March, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “Last year’s election was free

and fair, and President Alassane Ouattara is the democratically elected leader

of the nation.” Obama called for Gbagbo to step down, saying a refusal to do so

will lead to “more violence, more innocent civilians being wounded and killed,

and more diplomatic and economic isolation.”

The U.N. Security Council currently is considering new sanctions against Ivory

Coast introduced by France

and Nigeria.

These would be in addition to sanctions already in place since 2004. The new

measures would ban heavy weapons in Abidjan,

where Gbagbo is accused of using mortars to fire on civilians. They would also

call for an investigation into human rights violations.

Bradford urged Christians around the world to pray for

the situation. “Pray that amidst all the suffering, those who follow Christ and

are still on the ground can be a witness and encouragement to both believers

and unbelievers,” he said. “Pray for an end to come quickly.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Braddix is a writer and photographer for the International

Mission Board stationed at the Baptist Press Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

Baptist Global Response is on the Web at www.gobgr.org.)

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