#VOA. | Return or stay, the difficult choice of Ivorian refugees in Togo

A student in Abidjan, Jiher Gnangbé, fled his country in May 2011, which had just emerged from a violent post-election crisis to take refuge in Togo where he put down his suitcases like seven thousand other Ivorians at the Avépozo camp, in the suburbs of Lomé.

Eleven years later, 6,000 of them have returned to Côte d’Ivoire, where a lasting peace has settled. But for Jiher Gnanbé, a former supporter of Laurent Gbagbo, there is no question of returning. He wants to stay in Togo, even if in a few days, on June 30, he will lose his refugee status.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), estimates that Côte d’Ivoire has “turn the page” of this crisis and decided to lift the status of refugees for tens of thousands of Ivorians still living in neighboring countries, mainly in Ghana, Liberia, Benin and Togo.

Jiher Gnangbé is not of this opinion. “I don’t want to go back to Abidjan, because I’m still afraid of being arrested”says this former criminology student who, during the 2010 presidential election, was responsible for mobilizing young people in a district of the city for the victory of Laurent Gbagbo.

At the end of 2010, Laurent Gbagbo had challenged the results of the presidential election giving his opponent Alassane Ouattara the winner, which had provoked a violent crisis causing some 3,000 deaths.

“I fled the country because I was wanted by law enforcement. My father, a soldier, was killed in demonstrations”, says the refugee whose face darkens. The dozen refugees interviewed by AFP in this camp were, at the time of the crisis, supporters of Laurent Gbagbo who had fled Côte d’Ivoire after the arrest of the former president in April 2011.

Despite national reconciliation and the return to Côte d’Ivoire of Mr. Gbagbo, acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) which was prosecuting him for crimes against humanity, Jiher Gnanbé “prefer to stay in Lomé”. During this decade, he established in Lomé a small business of attiéké, the semolina of Ivorian cassava which his West African neighbors love.

Repatriation option

Like him, nearly 200 of them in the Avépozo camp received a passport from the Ivorian authorities on June 16, which will allow them to stay in Togo after their refugee card expires. As nationals of a country of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ivorians do not necessarily need a residence permit to live in Togo. An Ivorian passport allows them to move freely.

Denise Koffi, 43, has lived in the Avépozo camp since May 24, 2011 and she has also decided to stay: “I lived through two crises, in 2002 and 2011 and nothing proves that there will not be another crisis”she says. “I’m still traumatized”loose this mother of three children.

In total, “Togo hosted 7,000 Ivorian refugees in 2011. In our databases at the beginning of 2022, there were still around 1,000 Ivorian refugees, including 800 in the Avépozo camp”, underlines the head of the UNHCR office in Togo, Monique Atayi. Two solutions exist after the lifting of their status: “voluntary repatriation and local integration”she adds.

After more than eleven years in Togo, Sylvie Gnayoro, 42, has chosen to be repatriated. “The Ivorian authorities have reassured us”, says this former militant of Mr. Gbagbo’s party, whose shop in Abidjan had been burned down and her life threatened by young people from her neighborhood. She says she is relieved to leave the camp: “It was really hard. The houses are dilapidated, the UNHCR hasn’t provided us with assistance since 2013 and everyone manages”she says.

Initially composed of tents made with tarpaulins, the Avépozo camp – located by the sea – has since 2013 included more than 300 small wooden cabins with sheet metal roofs, most of them in an advanced state of disrepair. No infirmary, the premises having been set on fire in 2013 by the refugees themselves, during a demonstration to demand an improvement in their living conditions.

Nine years later, the situation has not improved. So half of the refugees still present chose the repatriation option. Many people refer to the lack of opportunities in Togo, one of the poorest countries in the world, faced with the strong dynamism of the Ivorian economy, whose growth rate exceeds 6% in 2021.

Source: VOA-AFP.

About VOA News

VOA - VOICE OF AMERICA: is a U.S. multimedia agency which serves as the United States government institution for non-military, external broadcasting. It is the largest U.S. international broadcaster. VOA produces digital, TV, and radio content in 47 languages which it distributes to affiliate stations around the globe.

Check Also

#PoliticoCD. | DRC: Félix Tshisekedi invites his Government to focus more efforts on improving the social welfare of the population

The President of the Republic, Félix Tshisekedi invited, during the Council of Ministers on Friday …

#VOA. | the army of Faso accused of having killed more than 40 civilians

Two human rights organizations denounced the “summary and extrajudicial executions” of “more than 40″ people” …