Hundreds of Togolese arrive in Benin's capital

News Stories, 27 May 2005

© UNHCR/J.Leduc
Togolese refugees waiting to be registered at the UNHCR office in Cotonou, Benin.

GENEVA, May 27 (UNHCR) Hundreds of Togolese refugees have arrived in the Beninese capital in recent days, citing fears of politically-motivated abductions and disappearances.

A total of 767 Togolese refugees have registered with UNHCR in Cotonou in the last two days. The new arrivals are mostly young men who are either members of opposition parties in Togo or perceived to be such because they come from southern Togo. They told UNHCR staff they were going to the Beninese capital to distance themselves from the Togolese border, some 110 km to the west.

"The refugees cite abductions and disappearance in parts of the country which support the opposition as the reason for their flight," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday. "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."

He added, "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."

The recent arrivals in Cotonou bring to 19,272 the total number of Togolese refugees in Benin. The main border crossing at Hilakondji remains calm, registering 70-200 refugees every day.

More than 6,600 of the refugees are living in Benin's Come and Lokossa camps, where classes have started for 1,600 students at the pre-school, primary and secondary education levels. The UN Children's Fund helped to set up the classes, constructing classrooms and providing textbooks from the Togolese curriculum. UNICEF also trained some of the refugee teachers to offer psycho-social counselling for the students.

Meanwhile, on Togo's western flank, no new arrivals have been reported in Ghana. A total of 15,144 Togolese refugees have been registered there, most of them living with friends and relatives. UNHCR emergency staff are looking for a suitable location to open an office in Ho, the chief town of the Volta region, as early as next week.

Shelter remains one of the top concerns in the area. UNHCR has renovated existing accommodation and relocating more than 1,500 refugees whose housing conditions were extremely poor. In addition, the agency 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 to build mud houses for the refugees.