Liberian Refugees In Fear of Incrimination
The Budumburam refugee camp in Gomoa, Central Accra, Ghana, has been home to thousands of Liberians who had escaped insecurity due to 14 years of warfare in Liberia. Notwithstanding the refugee status of the residents, the camp has been the subject of intermittent security suspicion and searches that turned out 100 per cent of the time to be futile.
According to The Analyst's Accra correspondent, residents of the Budumburam are living in fear of incrimination as the Ghanaian security have, once again, laid siege to the camp. The Analyst's Staff Writer has compiled this report.
The Ghanaian Commandant of the Budumburam refugee camp in Ghana, Mr. John Thompson, has disclosed that some 50 Ghanaian police and military personnel have laid siege to the camp in response to suspicion that mercenaries may be training in the camp to attack Ghana.
Mr. Thompson reportedly made the disclosure when he met with hundreds of fear-stricken Liberian refugees on Monday, August 23, 2004.
According to him, the siege was deemed necessary by his government in the wake of recent "reports" in The Analyst newspaper in Liberia about a pending attack on Ghana by mercenaries.
"Security will remain deployed at this camp until election is over," Mr. Thompson was quoted as telling the refugees many of whom were visibly frightened and surprised that such thing would be happening at a time when it was thought that xenophobia was a thing of the past in Ghana.
A refugee spokesperson said in response to the revelation, "We have no problem with the deployment.
Our only appeal to the authority is to deploy honest and sincere police and military personnel at the camp that will not secretly bring arms on the camp to falsely implicate us - refugees." A number of camp residents who spoke with our reporters late yesterday evening spoke of the presence of heavily-armed Ghanaian security personnel manning rigid checkpoints on all roads leading to the camp, bodily searching individuals and vehicles moving in and out of the camp, and mounting heavy patrols around the camp.
According to them, the action of the security details in and around the camp has created so much fear in the residents that many have resorted to confining themselves home by 9:00 p.m.
Where this latest development left the camp's vigilante group that had been entrusted with the security of the camp by the Ghanaian Government is not known.
"We are used to the Ghanaian society and some of us are mingling with the Ghanaians as brothers and sisters. But some of these people are not looking at us as fellow Africans from a neighboring country with a bubbling Ghanaian community notwithstanding the war.
We use to go out on social evenings but since Monday, we are not safe to do so," said a camp resident who refused to give his name for fear of reprisal.
He revealed that a female Liberian refugee was raped and robbed of her belongings by unknown assailants in an area known as "Kasoa" as she returned home late Monday night.
"You Liberians will suffer because you want to destroy our country," the victim, not named, reportedly quoted her assailants as saying.
It is not known whether the rape and robbery are a normal part of the Ghanaian criminal underworld or whether they are related to the current xenophobia due to the impression created by the deployment of the Ghanaian security forces, but camp residents are not taking chances, according to our correspondent.
Some Budumburam residents, the reports said, are leaving the camp while a few others are considering the option of returning home "if things continue." The present deployment is not the first at the camp, according to readers of the security saga on the Budumburam refugee camp in Ghana.
Last year March, they recalled, a Ghanaian newspaper published a story that accused Liberian refugees of training at the camp to overthrown the Ghanaian government.
They said on account of the allegation, the Ghanaian security mounted a house-to-house search in the camp that turned up nothing.
"The only thing they found was a single barrel gun at the home of a Ghanaian at the Village, an area outside the camp," said one camp resident.
Notwithstanding the tension and reported xenophobia generated possibly by the deployment, a radio talk show yesterday indicated that a significant portion of the Ghanaian public is opposed to the current security blockade at the camp.
Analysts say the opposition may have been related to suspicions by callers that some Ghanaian politicians may have planted the so-called "story" in The Analyst in Liberia just to make it appear authentic and lend the grounds for the massive deployment of troops around the country pending election in December this year.
They did not elaborate.
But according to callers who condemned the Budumburam deployment and dubbed it as "unnecessary and self-serving," if the Ghanaian Government wanted to investigate the newspaper reports, the method of sending troops on the camp wasn't the best approach.
"It would have been proper for the government to send plain clothes security personnel to the camp to quietly conduct any investigation, but instead the government chose to send heavily armed security men.
That is not good at all - the deployment puts fear not only in Liberians at the camp, but Ghanaians as well," our correspondent quoted one tough-talking Ghanaian caller to the talk show as saying.
In similar reaction, several other Ghanaian callers to the radio talk show cautioned their government to stop accusing Liberia or Liberian refugees without evidence.
One caller recalled a scenario in which some Liberians were falsely implicated in the murder of a chief in the Northern Region of Ghana and noted that it was time Liberians were punished not for being refugees but for committing crimes in the Ghanaian society.
"Up to present the fate of the investigation is unknown. Let the government stop accusing the refugees without evidence. We see this as a conduit to implement it plans," the caller noted without saying what the plans are.
The current intimidation of Budumburam residents began as a result of a misinformation campaign launched by the "Statesman newspaper" based in Accra which presented an advertisement in a recent edition of The Analyst newspaper as a news story.
The paper which is owned by the Foreign Minister of Ghana, cleverly transformed the title of advertisement from "Ghana's Stability Threatens as Opposition Leaders Recruit in the West African Region," to "Liberian Newspaper Warns of Mercenary Attack on Ghana" and presented it as a news story reported by The Analyst.
"Most surprisingly," The Analyst Management statement issued recently noted, "the paper ignores an editor's note clarifying that the content of the advertisement was subject to security verification and the fact that the word 'supplement' was attached to the publication and went ahead to quote The Analyst as the source." According to the statement, the insistence on quoting The Analyst as the source of the information and using that as an alibi to besiege the Liberian refugee camp in Ghana indicates that the "whole thing was planned in Ghana to use Liberians and The Analyst as scapegoats for the benefit of certain higher-ups in the Ghanaian society." Meanwhile, The Analyst Management has dispatched clarification notes to the Ghanaian press disassociating itself from the content of what it called a paid-for-advertisement, explaining steps taken to alert the Ghanaian government through its embassy in Liberia before the placing of the advertisement, and reiterating its call for the Ghanaian security to do everything possible to protect the Liberian refugees and the Ghanaian nation.
Memo to the President - Intervene
Your Excellency: Information from the Budumburam refugee camp in Ghana says residents there are undergoing tough times as a result of roadblocks laid to the camp by the Ghanaian security forces.
According to the residents who spoke to our reporters, yesterday evening, the action of the security details is related to allegations that some unknown persons are training in the refugee camp to destabilize Ghana.
There are also yet-to-be independently confirmed reports of harassment in and around the camp of the refugees by ordinary Ghanaians who are using the security blockade to unleash their own brand of xenophobia and prejudice against the helpless refugees.
Your Excellency, the current intimidation of Budumburam residents began as a result of a misinformation campaign launched by the "Statesman newspaper" based in Accra which presented an advertisement in a recent edition of The Analyst newspaper as a news story.
The paper which is owned by the Foreign Minister of Ghana, cleverly transformed the title of advertisement from "Ghana's Stability Threatens as Opposition Leaders Recruit in the West African Region," to "Liberian Newspaper Warns of Mercenary Attack on Ghana" and presented it as a new story reported by The Analyst.
Upon learning of the deliberate attempt by the Statesman newspaper to implicate The Analyst in what now appears as a Ghanaian political hoax in the wake of the pending general and presidential elections in that country, the Managing Editor of The Analyst recently addressed the Ghanaian public live on a radio talk show.
He used the opportunity to inform the Ghanaian public that the information in question did not originate with The Analyst but was placed in the paper by an advertiser.
He explained how prior to placing the advertisement, he personally consulted the Ghanaian ambassador to Liberia for comment and advice and published the advertisement only when the ambassador did not advise otherwise.
Besides that, The Analyst's editor also told the Ghanaian public that the paper felt obliged to publish the advertisement as indication of its concern for stability in the subregion and especially for Ghana which has made so much sacrifice for the restoration of sanity to Liberia.
Notwithstanding the clarification and as though someone in Ghana planted the advertisement solely to implicate Liberians and give ground to get at them, some elements in the Ghanaian media continue to refer to the advertisement as a news story published in The Analyst.
The concern of these elements, as manifested at Bumdumburam, appears more to be to implicate Liberians in yet another plot against Ghana and use that as an alibi to get at innocent refugees rather than address the security question.
We are saying this because from the silence of the Ghanaian Embassy in Liberia prior to and after the publication of the advertisement to the insistence of some Ghanaian media houses in quoting The Analyst as the sources of a subversion story, there can be no denying that a conspiracy masterminded by some Ghanaians to use Liberians as scapegoats is at play.
We think this is not only being un-neighborly, but unnecessarily putting the lives of innocent Liberians living in Ghana at risk to the pleasure of some unscrupulous politicians and their media lackeys who, surprisingly, want to see tension between Liberia and Ghana.
It is in regards to this unfortunate development, its recent security implication, and its likely consequences that we are calling on you to personally intervene to ensure that the Liberians in the Budumburam camp do not suffer further humiliation and hardship in matters that are not of their own making.
Granted you cannot possibly vouch for the innocence of the thousands of Liberians in Ghana, but we think you can work with President John Kuffour of Ghana, a man who has put so much time in working with other leaders in the subregion to bring sanity to Liberia, to provide respite to helpless Liberians in the Budumburam camp and elsewhere in Ghana.
An Executive Mansion press statement yesterday disassociating your government from allegations that the Liberian Embassy in Ghana is involved in attempts to subvert Ghana is a good beginning for working with the Ghanaian government in putting this situation to rest once and for all.
Thank you very much for your valuable time.