Ghana relentless over refugee issue

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Ghana on Tuesday maintained its hard line in the standoff with Liberian refugees which culminated in the deportation of 16 of them and removal of more than 600 others from their camp just west of the capital, Accra, and said a “firm decision” had been taken that all of them must return home.

Kwamena Bartels, Minister for the Interior, told a news conference in Accra on Tuesday that government had since requested for the invocation of the Cessation Clause under the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention because the grounds on which the Liberians remained in Ghana were no longer valid.

He said this had become necessary as the refugees themselves had stated that “they do not want to be integrated into the Ghanaian society and that they would resist local integration with all their might”.

Further, some of them, who are former combatants, were security threats, he added.

Bartels said the government would no longer tolerate the situation where people who had been given hospitality continued to undermine the security of the state.

“Our national security is supreme and shall not be compromised on any account.”

He said refugees had the responsibility to respect the laws of the state as well as refrain from subversive activities against the state. There are an estimated 40,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana, many of whom arrived 18 years ago at the peak of the civil war.

The standoff started on February 19, when a group of Liberian refugees embarked on an illegal demonstration at the Gomoa Buduburam refugee camp saying they did not want to be integrated into the Ghanaian society and that they should be resettled in a Western Country.

The demonstrators, mainly women and children, also said they wanted each Liberian refugee opting to voluntarily repatriate to be paid 1,000 US dollars.

Attempts by government officials and the United Nations Humanitarian Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to convince the leadership of the refugees to take off the demonstrators from the main highway was not adhered to.

The demonstrators also prevented organisations from distributing food to the elderly, sick and children most of whom rely heavily on the food distribution.

Bartels said no Liberian refugee in Ghana was here on account of fear of persecution and it was the belief of the government that the vast majority of them coul d return to Liberia in safety and dignity.

“All Liberian refugees in Ghana are refugees under the 1969 OAU Convention Gover ning the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and not under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

“Today there is absolute peace in Liberia and its citizens continue to return home without fear. Liberia has established herself as a respected and accepted mem b er of the International Community where democratic governance structures are in p lace,” he said.

Bartels said at a meeting with a high-powered delegation of the Liberian government it was agreed that a tripartite committee made up of Ghana, Liberia and UNHC R be established to work out the practical modalities for repatriation of the Liberian refugees starting with those who opted to voluntarily repatriate on the UNHCR sponsored programme.

According to the Minister, the meeting also agreed that the refugees be “dispersed and settled” in smaller communities for better management and monitoring. Panapress.

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