….UNHCR Rules Out Brutality in Ghana
By Bill Jarkloh
The Government of Liberia of Liberia in the wake of reported threats of reprisals against and harassments of members of the Ghanaian Community in Liberian this morning issued a statement committing itself to protect the rights of all Ghanaians and other foreign nationals residing in the country. The governments also appealing to Liberians including political leaders, religious as well as community and civil society organizations to assist the Government in the implementation of the solution arrived at as indicated earlier, and refrain from any action that has the tendency to inflame the situation.
“We call upon all Liberians at home and abroad to offer all assistance possible to ensure a smooth reintegration of our citizens, the statement said, adding, “The Government of Liberia looks forward to working with the Government of Ghana so as to maintain the close ties which have traditionally subsisted between our two countries and peoples.” Below is the full text of the statement:
“The Government of Ghana through it Ambassador accredited to Liberia has informed the Liberian Government of reports received from his citizens in Liberia about threats of reprisals against them. These threats are being made even while the Government of Liberia and Ghana along with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are working to find a lasting solution to the recent Liberian refugee crisis in Ghana. The two Governments, having issued a joint communiqué in Accra on the 28th of March 2008, reaffirmed that the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement the concluded with the UNHCR remain in force and provide the best solution to resolving this issue and therefore are committed to continue to work within that framework. At the same time, the Liberian Government is urging all its citizens currently living in Ghana to remain law-abiding while efforts are being made to bring them home peacefully. In this regard, we wish to inform our citizens that the thirty (30) Liberians expected to arrive tomorrow are part of those earlier scheduled to return home as indicated in our official statement released on 1st April 2008. The Government was therefore shocked and dismayed by the recent publication which appeared in the April 7th Edition of The INQUIRER Newspaper attributed to the self-proclaimed Forum for the Establishment of war Crime Court in Liberia which in effect, discredited the efforts by the Government as being “unpatriotic and insensitive to the suffering of our people”.
Government condemns Forum Criticisms
Even while dismissing the fruitful efforts of our diplomacy of positive engagement with the Government of Ghana and the UNHCR, this incendiary article unabashedly attempts to mislead the public into believing that heinous atrocities were meted out to our citizens by Ghanaian authorities. This attempt to besmear the Government and incite it citizens into an anti-Ghanaian frenzy must be condemned. Of even greater concern is the Forum’s promise to “pursue every means possible – including methods not discussed here…..! This Government however, believes in discussions; in negotiations; in transparency. Our engagement with the Ghanaian authorities and the UNHCR has yielded results, including the return to Buduburam of 600 refugees earlier taken to Kordiabe Refugee Camp and the signing of a tripartite agreement, which calls for the gradual phased out process of repatriation. It is important to note that the Government efforts also brought about an end a month-long protest by Liberian refugees in Buduburam Camp, thereby facilitating UNHCR access to the Camp to resume normal humanitarian works, including provision of food to the refugees that had been interrupted for a month.
The Government of Liberia recognizes that Liberians in the Diaspora, especially refugees, will eventually return home. This is why the Government, along with its international partners, the AU and ECOWAS, is developing a comprehensive policy and program to respond to the Liberia refugees that are expected to be repatriated over the coming months. We appeal to our citizens; political leaders, religious as well as Community and civil society organizations to assist the Government in the implementation of the solution arrived at as indicated earlier, and refrain from any action that has the tendency to inflame the situation. We call upon all Liberians at home and abroad to offer all assistance possible to ensure a smooth reintegration of our citizens. Meanwhile, the Government reaffirms its commitment to protect the rights of all Ghanaians and other foreign nationals residing in the country. The Government of Liberia looks forward to working with the Government of Ghana so as to maintain the close ties which have traditionally subsisted between our two countries and peoples.”
UNHCR Rules out brutality against regugees
Meanwhile, the UNHCR-Ghana office has ruled out any police brutality in handling the current refugee crisis in Ghana. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR says it is not aware of police abuse of Liberians in Ghana. UNHCR briefing notes issued in Accra on March 19, 2008 and has surfaced in Liberia said reports reaching UNHCR from partners on the ground and confirmed by refugees present indicated that force was not used or needed as the refugees who boarded the buses apparently assumed they were going to be settled and were therefore very cooperative with the authorities.
The briefing notes further indicated that the UN Agency was informed at 06:30hrs on 17 March 2008 that refugees who had gathered for nights on a football field in front of the Buduburam refugee Settlement to continue their daily sit-in protest starting from 19
February 2008, were arrested by police and transported away from Buduburam.
“The authorities have confirmed that the approximately 600 arrested persons are being detained at Kordiabe, a youth facility in the eastern region of Ghana,” UNHCR Ghana furthered. UN Refugee Agency said the has been granted access to them and is currently determining amongst other things, protection and assistance needs of the detainees as well as obtain a full list and demographic breakdown in order to establish those of concern to UNHCR in cooperation with Ghana refugee Board.”
The briefing notes said, “On this account, it has been established that there are 630 detainees, 542 women and 88 others with varying degrees of vulnerability (pregnant women, nursing mothers, physically challenged persons and children). Our primary concern at this point is to ensure that separated minors are reunited with their families and adequate medical assistance is provided for those who need it. UNHCR has put in a request to the Ghana refugee Board to consider releasing the vulnerable on humanitarian grounds.”
UNHCR pointed out that it has therefore established that sleeping commodities, hot meals, water and used clothing have been provided for them and they have a medical officer on standby. “They have their mobile phones and are able to communicate as they choose. A leader that has emerged from the detained group has praised the Police for the
professional manner in which they have been treated. The Police at Kordiabe (some 20 of them on UNHCR’s count) were unarmed,” UNHCR-Ghana added.
According to the Ghana office of the UNHCR, “Consultations with Government on the way forward are ongoing, primarily to ensure that due process will be adhered to in managing the arrested refugees. UNHCR has no reason to expect otherwise as Ghana has always supported a positive refugee regime.”
Within the same time In Buduburam, the UNHCR Ghana said it observed that the demonstrations were continuing with increasing numbers, and that there remains police presence in the vicinity, stationed across the road from the refugee settlement, ostensibly to monitor the situation. “To the best of our knowledge, the ring leaders absconded upon the arrival of the Police and are still at large. The daily demonstrations do not seem affected by the arrests,” the UNHCR-Ghana’s briefing note added, saying “Reportedly, as at 10.00hrs on 19 March 2008, there were some 1000 refugees on the football field, both men and women.”
It said on 19 February 2008, UNHCR staff went to meet with the elderly refugee women at Buduburam to share the new repatriation assistance of $100 per adult and $50 per child as well as available durable solutions, but this was met with an outburst of hostility, mainly from a group that calls itself “Liberian Refugee Women with Refugee Concerns”.
The group, the UNHCR-Ghana disclosed, had systematically been disrupting programming and dialogue with refugees at Budubram. “The group is requesting for resettlement to a third country, demanding $1000 to rebuild their houses upon repatriation and rejecting local integration. On the same day, they then embarked on what will be an indefinite sit-in protest.”
The UNHCR office in that country further explained that over the past month, they have disrupted interactions with an organized group in the camp and have threatened staff, including death threats as well as issued threats to refugees who opt to take advantage of programmes that lead to self-sufficiency or express their willingness to repatriate voluntarily.
“Targeted food distribution scheduled to take place at Buduburam on 28 February 2008 was halted until further notice due to reported threats to the recipients, mounting tension and disruption by the “Liberian Refugee Women with Refugee Concerns,” the UN refugee office in Accra averred.
It said given that the recipients of the food basket include chronically ill, elderly and malnourished refugees, this was a very disturbing development and the authorities were once again asked to intervene as it was beyond the control of the Camp management and the refugee leadership who had also directly been threatened for not supporting them. “UNHCR became increasingly concerned as the situation is causing stress for the majority of the population which remains uninvolved.”
It recalled that on 11 March 2008, UNHCR, Ghana’s Ministry of Interior, Ghana Refugee Board and the self-elected leaders of the demonstrators and some of their supporters- some sixty individuals in all, met to dialogue on the issue. UNHCR said it reiterated its inability to pay $1000 per individual as part of the repatriation package or re-open large scale resettlement for Liberian. On his part, the Minister of Interior informed them of the illegality of their act and assured them that they would face the full
rigours of the law if they persisted. They left, pledging to the media that they will not be intimidated and will persist. UNHCR expressed its satisfaction to them that the lines of communication had been re-established and hoped to continue to engage them in constructive dialogue, using existing channels of communication.
“Subsequently UNHCR engaged them vigorously in bilateral dialogue and urged them to stop the sit-in and express themselves within the confines of the laws of Ghana. This effort continued until yesterday but to no avail. This is largely because the self-styled leader had manipulated the community and fed them with so much misinformation that they were no longer sure which direction to take. UNHCR continues to find avenues for redress, the briefing note concluded.