Ghana: deportation to Liberia

Briefing Notes, 25 March 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 March 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Following a deportation on Sunday 23 March of 16 Liberians by the Ghanaian authorities 13 of them registered with UNHCR as refugees we have urged Ghana to cease any further forcible removals.

The deportation followed a five-week sit-in demonstration by a group of Liberians which started last month on 19 February at the Buduburam refugee settlement, some 35 km west of the country's capital city Accra. Refugees were demanding to be resettled to third countries or, if they were to return to Liberia, for the return grant, currently $100, to be increased to $1,000. Despite our extensive efforts to promote dialogue and convince the demonstrators to express themselves within the confines of Ghanaian law, the group engaged in increasingly threatening and disruptive action.

After having shown restraint for over a month, the Ghanaian authorities arrested some 630 demonstrators on March 17. The group was taken to a youth training facility at Kordiabe in the east of the country, where they were visited and assisted by UNHCR. On the evening of 21 March 2008, UNHCR negotiated the release of 90 of the most vulnerable of the group, including separated children and pregnant women.

However, the following day on March 22, we were informed of the arrest of some 70 Liberians from Buduburam. We immediately requested the authorities to be granted access to the group. This request was still pending when we learned that 16 people from the group had been deported to Liberia early in the morning on March 23. Thirteen of them 10 men and 3 women were refugees.

We regret the deportation of this group of refugees and hope that our ongoing negotiations with the Ghanaian authorities will help resolve the situation of the refugees still in detention.

The demonstration stopped on Monday. We are continuing to try and persuade the refugee community to use existing channels to address their issues as well as reminding them of their obligation to obey the laws and regulations of their country of asylum.

There are 26,967 Liberians officially registered as refugees in Ghana most live in Buduburam refugee camp. From October 2004 to June 2007 UNHCR ran a major repatriation programme for Liberian refugees who has fled to various West African countries during a brutal civil war. Some 105,000 Liberian refugees returned home under the programme.

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New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.