The UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has urged the Ghana Government to cease any further deportation of Liberian refugees in Ghana.
The UNHCR asked the government to stop forcible removals of refugees following the deportation on Sunday, March 23 of 16 Liberians, 13 of whom are registered with UNHCR as refugees.
UNHCR has also issued another strong call to the refugee population at large at the Buduburam Refugee Camp in the Central region, from which 70 individuals were arrested on Saturday March 22 by the secutity services in response to an ongoing demonstration, to desist from any other unlawful actions, including the disruption of humanitarian operations and threats and intimidation which have been made against other refugees and humanitarian workers.
These were contained in a press release issued by the UNHCR in Accra Sunday.
The statement said, the Director of International Protection Services, Mr George Okoth-Obbo, speaking at the Organization's Headquarters in Geneva, stated; “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 these are the innocent majority of Liberian refugees who call Ghana home”.
The sit-in and demonstrations started in February when a group calling itself the “Liberian Refugee Women with Refugee Concerns” started behaving aggressively in their demands to be resettled to third countries. Alternatively, they demanded for the grant being provided to Liberian refugees returning home to be increased to $1,000 from the current figure of $100.
Following an initial hunger strike which included some 100 women, the group, which now had been joined by other mainly male ring leaders, escalated its instigations to a full-fledged demonstration early last week at a football park in front of the Camp.
They 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 Camp because of security concerns.
The refugee agency's pleas with the refugee leaders to work with UNHCR in addressing their concerns peacefully, and warnings by the Government that their actions were breaching the laws of Ghana all went unheeded.
On March 17, the Government's law enforcement agencies moved in and arrested some 630 of the group demonstrating at the football grounds, who were detained at a youth centre at Kodeabe, in the Eastern region.
On the morning of Saturday March 22, another 70 individuals, including the 16 deported on Sunday March 23, were arrested. The arrested included neighbourhood leaders within the community who, according to the Government, had a duty to stop the demonstrations.
Since the deportation, the remaining 54 have been released.
UNHCR, which has worked closely with the Government since the sit-in started, has echoed that it recognizes the Government's duty to enforce its national laws. It has however, appealed for it to be proportionate and measured in its response and, particularly, to uphold the humanitarian principles of refugee protection the adherence to which Ghana has a long and respectable history.
The Refugee Agency also drew attention to the situation of some nearly 90 among the group arrested on March 17 who have various vulnerabilities, including separated minors, pregnant and lactating mothers, and others living with disability or serious medical conditions.
The statement said: “UNHCR was pleased that the Government agreed to allow this group to return to the settlement on the evening of 21 March 2008. Another 35 persons also allowed to leave the centre and return to the settlement however decided to remain there.
“Following the arrests on Saturday, UNHCR had made a request to the authorities to be granted access to the group. This request was still pending when it came to the refugee agency's attention that 16 of the group had been deported. While reiterating its wish that a different solution would have been found, UNHCR will continue its efforts to work vigorously with the Government of Ghana on the best way forward for all those still being held at Kodeabe and for the solution of the on-going situation at the settlement.
The refugee agency is confident that, notwithstanding the deportation, the Government will 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.
“There are 26,967 Liberians registered formally and officially as refugees with UNHCR and the Government of Ghana, most of whom reside in the Buduburam Refugee Camp. There is also an unknown number of Liberians living in Ghana, including the Camp, who (were) not formally registered as refugees,” the statement said.