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.