Living in the bush: 3 survivors’ testimonies in Ivory Coast

“They hit me on the back of my head with a machete, and cut my arm…”
Boy, 17, village in western Ivory Coast.
(May 2011)

At the end of February, my village was attacked. Twenty of us ran to our camp (a small shelter next to peoples’ fields where they sleep when cultivating or harvesting) together. But the attackers came to find us in the bush in the middle of the night. They shot my mother in the chest, then shot and killed my father and my younger brother and sister. They killed four people.

Six other people were wounded. One was my aunt, who was shot in the shoulder. We tried to convince her to go to Danané hospital but she refused because she was too afraid. Up to today, she still has not seen a doctor, the wound is infected and the bullet remains inside her shoulder.

I escaped the camp to another house up on a hill. But the armed men came after me again and set fire to the house. My arm and my leg were burned. I fled the burning house. The men said they would kill me. They hit me on the back of my head with a machete, and cut my arm as well. I lost so much blood.

There were two other camps near my village and one was my uncles. Twenty-six people were killed with machetes in those camps – men, women, children, babies. The attackers dug a hole and buried all these bodies so no one would see them.

From my village, I fled to again to my aunt and uncles. I was there all alone, and didn’t dare to wash for days. Later, the rest of us came – just eight of us were left. Fourteen others had been killed. We are now like refugees in our own country. We keep looking for food everywhere but from the start we couldn’t find anything in the fields. Often the rice had been burned. We eat bananas and drink water from rivers and shallow wells we dig ourselves.

We never have enough to eat. If we eat in the morning, we have nothing at night. The rain falls on our heads through the roof of our shelter. People get sick out in the camps and go without treatment. One woman lost two children to malaria and the third one is now sick in the hospital in Danané.

We stay in the bush because we hope the fighting could not touch us there any more. If there is a food distribution I come to the village. But then I go back to the bush, because there is not peace in our village.

I knew all of those armed men. They were from my village, I even know their names. My village is now full of these people, how can I go back to live there? I think a lot about how all my family is gone. What is left behind is me and my memories .

“Many people were dead and their bodies burned…”
Woman, 21, village in western Ivory Coast.
(May 2011)

Two months ago, we were all in our village when armed men entered. They started to shoot and kill people and burn houses. I fled into the bush with my baby. The attackers ran past me to where my parents were. I could hear my parents screaming and crying. The next day, I went back and found them both dead. Many people were dead and their bodies burned. I ran back to the bush and fled towards Toulepleu. My other young son was with my parents when the attack happened and I haven’t found him since.

I stayed in the bush. We could not go to the village because we have no houses there. We slept under palm roofing and ate raw manioc. Some other people have gone to Liberia but they say there is nothing to eat there. One man came back recently and he says he will go back to call his family to join him here because there is not enough food there.

There are many people out there (in the bush). And a lot of illness, with people who have stomach problems. We only come out of the bush to go to the clinic. We are too afraid to see dead bodies. Often I think a lot about what happened and my heart starts to pound.

“They laid me down on it, doused me with gasoline and set me on fire…”
Old man, 72, western Ivory Coast.
(April 2011)

After the election, we asked for help with the hope that we would be spared the violence between the two sides, because that has nothing to do with us. But in March fighters came and now there have been too many people killed.

On Monday 28 March I was at home, because I am old and retired. Armed people came and took me to the big road. They laid me down on it, doused me with gasoline and set me on fire. They took my right foot and wanted to totally burn it. Somebody grabbed me and took me out of the fire and put me on their back. My foot and my clothes were burnt. That person took me to the hospital on his moped the next day. Why did they pick on me and burn me? I’m innocent.

Then the rest of my family followed me here. There are 25 of us. It was time to go. We don’t have anything left. The harvest has gone – everything has been ransacked. I can’t go back. I don’t have any shelter there. I would have to live in the bush if I went back. I’m totally at the mercy of humanitarian organisations to look after me.

Somebody should take care of us while we find a solution and rebuild our homes. When you arrive in the village, there are so many people who have been displaced by the conflict. What are they going to eat? It’s a matter of urgency. You need to take care of these victims without any more delay so they’re not going to die.

When I get out of hospital, where am I going to go and where am I going to put my family? I’m panicking just thinking about going back to my village. The panic still haunts me. I don’t want my identity to be divulged, because they are still here and they are armed to the hilt. I’m just asking for my security and my safety. I don’t really care who is the president, whether it is Paul or Joe, I just want to be in peace.