The standoff between the Ghanaian authorities and Liberian refugees has taken a new turn as the UN Refugee Agency has urged the Ghana Government to cease any further forcible removals.
This followed the deportation on Saturday of 17 Liberians, nearly all of whom the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had registered as refugees.
The UNHCR, in a statement released in Accra. also issued another strong call to the refugee population at large at the Gomoa Buduburam refugee camp, just west of Accra, “to desist from any other unlawful actions”.
These include the disruption of humanitarian operations and threats and intimidation which have been made against other refugees and humanitarian workers.
The Ghanaian authorities took a hard line against the refugees who had persistently defied calls to end weeks of demonstrations and disruption of life at the refugee camp to press demands for US$1,000 repatriation fee from the UNHCR and resettlement in the US.
More than 600 women and children calling themselves “Liberian Refugee Women with Refugee Concerns” were removed from the camp a week ago and sent to a leadership training centre at Kordiabe north of the capital, but the government has since returned some 200 of them, saying some were lactating mothers while others had to be reintegrated with their families.
Another 70 men were arrested on Saturday, 30 of whom were identified as being ringleaders of the unrest, and 17 were deported last Saturday, Interior Minister Kwamena Bartels said.
He added that two more batches of those arrested were to be deported on Sunday and Monday, but the action had been frozen to allow for talks with the Liberian authorities.
The UNHCR statement quoted the Director of International Protection Services, Mr. George Okoth-Obbo, as saying: “It is very unfortunate that the unacceptable actions of a few have led to this situation. Refugees, of course, have the duty to respect the laws of the country of asylum established for good public order. Any further sit-ins, demonstrations or other unlawful acts must cease unconditionally.
“At the same time, while fully understanding the frustration of the authorities, I would like to reiterate UNHCR’s call to the Government not to make any further deportations and to work with us to address the situation through other mechanisms available within the laws of Ghana. Unfortunately, the victims in all of this are the innocent majority of Liberian refugees who call Ghana home,” the statement added.
UNHCR said following an initial hunger strike which included some 100 women, the group, which had been joined by other mainly male ring leaders, heightened its instigations to a full-fledged action at a football compound in front of the settlement.
It also disrupted several aspects of the refugee programme, including the on-going voluntary repatriation of Liberian refugees back home or self-sufficiency activities for those remaining in Ghana.
Refugee children were blocked from going to school and forced to take part in the demonstrations. Humanitarian workers were threatened, making it impossible for UNHCR to visit the settlement because of security concerns.
UNHCR said it would continue its efforts “to work vigorously with the government of Ghana on the best way forward for all those still in detention at Kordiabe and for the solution of the on-going situation at the settlement”.
UNHCR said it was confident that notwithstanding the deportation, the Ghana government would “remain steady in its established record of hospitality and adherence to the humanitarian principles of refugee protection.
“Together with all concerned parties, the Refugee Agency will continue its efforts of taking advantage of the opportunities which exist to drive forward the finalization of the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of the Liberian refugees remaining in Ghana and other asylum countries in the region,” UNHCR said.
There are some 40,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana, with 26,967 registered formally and officially as refugees with UNHCR and the Government of Ghana.
Most of those refugees reside in Buduburam refugee camp established some 18 years ago, when the refugees flooded in at the height of the Liberian civil war. Panapress.