13 March 2008

Ghana: Refugees Protest Repatriation

Accra — Around 500 Liberian refugees in Ghana are in the fourth week of an "indefinite sit down strike" to draw attention to what they see as dissatisfactory arrangements to have them repatriated this year.

The refugees, who have delivered a petition with three demands to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Ghana Refugee Board, say they "strongly oppose" integration into Ghanaian society.

They are calling for resettlement in a third country, preferably in Europe, or US$1,000 per person to help them return to Liberia - ten times the US$100 UNHCR is currently offering them.

"We are going back to emptiness and I can't imagine that the UNHCR aided by the Ghana Refugee Board can be so cruel," Tenneh Kamara, the spokesperson for the protesting refugees told IRIN.

Holding out

According to the Ghana Refugee Board, there are still 40,000 Liberian Refugees in Ghana. A total of 42,034 were registered in the country in 2004, one year after the end of the 1989-2003 civil war in Liberia, according to UNHCR.

Most of the refugees live at the Bujumbura camp, an hour drive north of the capital Accra while the rest are in the Krisan camp in the Western Region of Ghana, two hours drive from Accra.

A tripartite agreement between the refugees, UNHCR and the Ghana refugee board was signed in September 2004 for the commencement of a voluntary repatriation.

All those who took advantage of the initial agreement were transported back to Liberia free of charge and given US$5 per person at the point of disembarkation to be used for transportation to their home towns.

However, in 2005 around 800 people at the Krisan camp started a riot as they rallied for reintegration in a third country rather than return to Liberia or integration in Ghana.

Resettlement ruled out

Voluntary repatriation to Liberia from Ghana was supposed to end in June last year, but was extended for one additional year and the resettlement package increased to US$100 to encourage more people to leave.

Needa Jehu-Hoyah, spokesperson for UNHCR in Ghana, said the situation at the Bujumbura refugee camp is "unfortunate" but large scale resettlement is not an option.

"The idea is to get them to return to assist in rebuilding their country, so the issue of resettlement in a third country does not come up," she said.

The Ghana Refugee Board said it is yet to take a decision on what to do with Liberian refugees who remain in Ghana on the expiration of the 30 June deadline.

The secretary to the board, Abdulai Bawumia, told IRIN that integrating Liberian refugees into Ghanaian society is out of the question.

Some 70 percent of the refugees in Ghana are from Liberia's Montserrado county, with the remainder mainly from Bong county, according to UNHCR.

Both counties have been declared safe by the government using indicators such as the level of social and economic infrastructure in place, visible civil authority and the scale of spontaneous return.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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