UNHCR rushes aid to Ghanaian refugees in Togo
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 28 May 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
A violent land dispute between the two villages in northeastern Ghana forced some 3,500 Ghanaians to flee their homes and cross into neighbouring Togo since 18 April. Ghanaian refugees, presently sheltering in four Togolese villages in Tanjouare district in Savane region, told UNHCR their houses were pillaged and destroyed, their belongings torched.
We welcome the prompt reaction of the Togolese authorities which provided Ghanaian refugees with immediate emergency assistance and food. According to findings of UNHCR assessment mission, the refugees are in need of water, food, shelter and medicines. Most of these refugees belong to vulnerable groups - there are many children, some of them suffering from diarrhea and malaria. There are also pregnant and lactating women, elderly and handicapped.
The refugees presently outnumber the local population and share their quickly diminishing resources. Water is of particular concern and UNHCR, as part of its immediate response, had offered to rehabilitate several wells in the area.
A first UNHCR emergency aid convoy left from Accra yesterday morning (Thursday, 27 May) loaded with blankets, mats and cooking sets. Another convoy will leave in the next few days with additional aid items including some 700 tents and other shelter materials, jerry cans, mosquito nets and cooking sets. The trucks will need almost three days to reach their final destination in northern Togo. The assistance they carry will meet the needs of these refugees for the next three months. We hope that Ghanaian refugees will be able to return to their villages as soon as the conditions allow.
Meanwhile in Togo, together with the Togolese authorities we have identified a new site, further away from the border, where we plan to transfer the refugees. This move will help to improve security and alleviate the pressure on the scarce resources of the host communities and free the public buildings presently used as shelter by refugees. Since the Ghanaian refugees come from both villages involved in the violent dispute, UNHCR is working with the local authorities to identify a second site that would allow the separation of the two opposing groups.
Some 60 percent of arrivals are children and young adolescents under the age of 17 and together with our partners we are also planning to bring and distribute education materials.
This is not the first time the Ghanaian villagers cross into neighbouring Togo seeking safety and shelter. In early March some 300 Ghanaians fled to Togo due to the same land dispute, but returned home within a few weeks. This time however, refugees claim they have lost everything and have expressed concern in returning for the moment.