Up to one million people in Ivory Coast have fled the fighting in the main city Abidjan alone, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Thousands have sought shelter in countries such as Liberia as the violence escalates. There are fears the conflict could spread over the border.
The ongoing power struggle since last November’s disputed election has brought Ivory Coast virtually to civil war.
“They were shooting in all directions, indiscriminately,” said Gabriel Gobe Selou, a refugee who had made it to Liberia. “Bullets were going everywhere. They shot in all directions including with rockets. So we fled the village.”
Ivory Coast’s neighbours have called for the UN’s peacekeeping mandate to be strengthened to protect civilians more robustly. More than 460 deaths have been confirmed.
The ONG Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) says even hospital staff have fled the fighting.
“There could be up to one million people, just in Abidjan and the surrounding areas alone who are displaced at this point in time and that’s not counting the people in the west also, a huge number of people,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, in Geneva.
France is submitting draft UN resolutions to ban the use of heavy weapons in Abidjan, and to impose sanctions on incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and those close to him.
The UN Human Rights Council is to send an independent commission to Ivory Coast to investigate killings and other crimes.
Gbagbo alleges vote rigging in the election and refuses to step down in favour of Alassane Ouattara, who is recognised internationally to have won the election.