Daniel Howden: The only refugee camp in Africa where most people are white

Eyewitness
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The Independent Online

With its tennis courts, swimming pool, palm trees and tropical climate, the Force Licorne base in Abidjan resembles a French holiday camp, albeit one with helicopters, tanks and heavy weaponry.

But the courts are empty and the pool gates are locked as the base has been transformed into Africa's only majority-white refugee camp. With its long food queues, lack of running water and long-winded registration, the base has come to resemble so many other camps on the fringes of this continent's conflicts. But there are differences.

Standing in a long line waiting for lunch yesterday, Jacques Vuarchex described his four-day stay in a tent as "excellent". The French timber merchant, who has lived in Abidjan for 30 years, said he and his two daughters were enjoying "the great food".

His family called for help last Friday after they heard shooting outside their home in the wealthy Beatrice neighbourhood and found four bodies outside.

Like many of the people at the camp, Mr Vuarchex did not want to join the emergency airlifts out of Ivory Coast. "I'm not leaving, I think it's almost over. I came here in 2003 when this happened last time but hopefully this is the last time I will be a refugee," he joked.

By yesterday afternoon, as many as 3,000 people were sheltering with about 1,000 members of "Unicorn Force", the French military deployment in the country.

Not everyone at the camp is white. About Haughot – who has Ivorian and French citizenship – arrived two days ago with his family of five after security in the Plateau district disintegrated. The rubber plantation owner and accountant, who wore a gold watch, said: "We live in a very big house, in fact we have three of them so we thought we would be safe to wait it out." The family were still arguing over whether to leave the country or sit tight.

Life on the base has been transformed with a warehouse-sized mess trying to churn out more than 8,000 meals every day. The water system was out of action for several days although supply was restored yesterday. The once-lively bars will stay closed during the crisis after a commander decided soldiers and displaced families might not mix well with alcohol.

Not everyone who has been evacuated was under immediate threat, said one officer. "Many have come here because the water has run out in the rest of the city or their food has run short. They know they can wait it out here and go home when things get a bit more normal."

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