All 26,967 Liberian refugees resident in the country are to be repatriated to Liberia by the Government of Ghana for them to help to rebuild their country.
The repatriation exercise, which will be sponsored by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), is expected to start after Friday, April 4, 2008.
In the interim, all Liberian refugees at the Buduburam settlement will be dispersed and settled in smaller communities for better management and monitoring.
The Minister of the Interior, Mr Kwamena Bartels, who announced this in Accra yesterday when he met the press at the Ministry of Information, said the government would no longer tolerate the situation where people who had been warmly received in the country continued to undermine the security of the state.
“Our national security is supreme and shall not be compromised on any account. Besides, refugees have a responsibility to respect our laws, as well as refrain from subversive activities against the state,” he stated.
He said the government was aware of the presence of a number of ex-combatants at the Buduburam settlement and would not sit down unconcerned for the security of the country to be jeopardised.
Mr Bartels said the government had held a meeting with a high-powered delegation of the Liberian government, during which the government's position was made clear to the Liberians and they agreed that a tripartite committee made up of representatives of the governments of Ghana and Liberia, as well as the UNHCR, be set up to work out the practical modalities for the repatriation.
He explained that Ghana had, on the onset of the Liberian Civil War in 1989/90, received and hosted several thousands of Liberian refugees who had fled the conflict, in the spirit of African unity and brotherliness.
He said the country's doors had been opened since independence and recounted how Ghana had received the ill-fated “Bulk Challenge” ship carrying hundreds of Liberians fleeing the conflict in 1996 as it drifted helplessly on the high seas, after it had been rejected by almost every country on the west coast of Africa.
The minister said Ghana had played a very active and pivotal role in the search for peace in Liberia and also contributed troops to peace-keeping operations to the extent that Ghanaian lives had been lost in the search for peace in Liberia.
He said Liberian refugees fled to Ghana because of the civil conflict which had presently ended, with the country returning to democratic rule and normalcy, adding that the government signed a tripartite agreement in September 2004 for the voluntary repatriation, which ended on June 30, 2007.
“All Liberian refugees in Ghana are refugees under the 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspects of the refugee problems in Africa and not under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
No Liberian refugee in Ghana is here on account of war of prosecution and it is the belief of the government that the vast majority of them can return to Liberia in safety and dignity,” he said.
The Minister of the Interior said for the past five years there had been absolute peace in Liberia and over one million refugees had returned home.
Consequently, the government had requested for the invocation of the Cessation Clause under Article 1 (4) of the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention because the grounds on which they remained here were no longer valid.
Mr Bartels expressed displeasure at the fact that a group of Liberians had, since February 19, 2008, embarked on an illegal demonstration at the Buduburam Refugee Settlement, stating, among other things, that they did not wish to remain in Ghana to be integrated into the Ghanaian society.
They had rather demanded resettlement in a Western country, probably the United States or Canada, and the payment of $1,000 to each of them opting to voluntarily resettle in Liberia.
He said the cause of action had been a matter of grave concern to the government because it did have grave security implications and the leaders of the demonstration had hidden behind the women and innocent children to perpetrate their illegal acts.
The minister said the seemingly innocent demonstration by women and children was part of a wider plot by a number of persons to cause mayhem on the settlement, as well as threaten the security of the nation.
Mr Bartels said Ghana, as an independent and sovereign country, had the right to protect itself from subversive elements and would take any action appropriate to protect and preserve the peace in the country without apology to anybody.
Story by Mary Mensah