Last month, we reported that more than 20,000 victims had fled to the Salesian compound in Duekoue, Ivory Coast, after rebels looted and burned their homes. Since then, the violence has escalated and the Salesians are now caring for more than 30,000 refugees. The desperate conditions at the compound – a shortage of food, drinking water, bathroom facilities and the fear of a cholera outbreak – have forced the Salesians to send out a worldwide plea for aid.
Fr. Vincent Grupeli, who works at the Salesian compound, warns that the refugee population is far more than the facility can handle, "which when full could provide hospitality for at the most 8,000 people standing." He adds that "people can't be kept in these conditions. We are overwhelmed by the mass of humanity, but our hearts cannot turn them away."
Although it's been a slow and difficult process, assistance from other international communities are starting to arrive. "We now have water for six hours a day and some humanitarian agencies are supplying food," explains Fr. Grupeli.
In addition, U.N. forces have been guarding the Salesian compound since the violence erupted. Although the protection is helping to ensure the safety of the refugees, it reinforces the seriousness of the situation. As a result, families are too afraid to leave the compound and return to their homes.
To make matters worse, the banks have been closed for months and the people cannot access the little money they have. In response, the Salesians have started a financial aid fund for the victims.
"Our work now has to become especially social work," says Fr. Grupeli. "We need to dedicate all our efforts to restoring a situation where people can live peacefully together." Through their faith and determination, the Salesians are hopeful that international agencies and caring friends and donors will step forward in their support of the tens of thousands of victims of this massive crisis.