Togo refugee numbers rise steadily

Briefing Notes, 27 May 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 May 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of refugees fleeing targeted violence and a climate of fear in Togo continues to rise steadily, with a total of 34,416 refugees now registered in neighbouring Benin and Ghana. That's up from 33,385 on Tuesday. All the new arrivals over the last week have been in Benin, with no new arrivals reported in Ghana.

In Benin, the border crossing point of Hilakondji remains calm, registering around 70-200 refugees a day. The majority of refugees, mainly young men, are registering with UNHCR in the capital Cotonou. On Wednesday, 616 refugees registered in Cotonou, with a further 151 registering on Thursday. There are currently a total of 19,272 refugees in Benin.

The refugees are telling UNHCR they have come to Cotonou to be far away from the Togo border, some 110 km to the west. The majority of those arriving are young men who are either members of the opposition parties or perceived as such because they come from southern Togo. The refugees cite abductions and disappearance in parts of the country which support the opposition as the reason for their flight. According to the refugees, security forces carry out searches at night in Lomé, Aneho, Atakpame and other parts of the country where there is opposition support, creating a climate of fear.

Other refugees in Cotonou came to join family members who had fled earlier while they had waited inside Togo to assess how the situation would evolve. Some of these refugees said that they had jobs they did not want to leave but they felt compelled to cross the border for fear of becoming the next targets of the security forces.

Meanwhile, in the camps of Come and Lokossa where 6,621 refugees are sheltering, some 1,600 students have begun classes at the pre-school, primary and secondary education levels. The classes were set up with the help of UNICEF, which also helped construct classrooms and provided text books from the Togolese curriculum. Some of the teachers, refugees themselves, received UNICEF training in psycho-social counselling for the students.

In Ghana, where a total of 15,144 Togolese refugees have been registered, UNHCR is planning to open an office in Ho, the chief town of the Volta region. Emergency staff are identifying a suitable location for the office, which could open as early as next week.

By reinforcing its presence in the area, UNHCR hopes to improve the delivery of assistance to the refugees, the vast majority of whom are living with host families and communities. One of the major challenges in the area is the issue of shelter, which the organisation has been addressing by improving and renovating existing available accommodation. UNHCR has already relocated over 1,500 Togolese refugees whose housing conditions were extremely poor.

In agreement with the Ghanaian authorities, UNHCR has started providing construction tools, cement, doors, windows and roofing material to improve living conditions for both refugees and their host families. Local communities have also agreed to provide soil and bamboo and to help in construction of mud houses for the refugees.