UNHCR aid reaches Ghanaian refugees in northern Togo

Briefing Notes, 4 June 2010

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 4 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Four UNHCR trucks loaded with emergency aid and rushed from Accra at the end of the past week have reached northern Togo. The distribution of UNHCR assistance to some 3,600 Ghanaian refugees in Togo's Tandjouaré region is therefore scheduled to begin this weekend. Ghanaian villagers crossed into Togo fleeing a violent land dispute, in which, reportedly, four people were killed, several injured, hundreds of properties destroyed and an unknown number of people forced to leave their homes.

Together with the Togolese authorities, we are moving ahead with plans to tackle the continuing tensions between the opposing groups of refugees, belonging to different clans, by moving people into two separate campsites, about 5 kilometres apart.

The two sites, at Matougou and Gbadakungue, have been made available to UNHCR by the local authorities and we are preparing them for use. We expect them to be ready within the next four weeks. The refugees will be transferred to the new sites as the work progresses.

Refugees crossed the border into northern Togo between the end of April and the end of May amid a worsening land dispute between the villages of Kombatiek and Nadongou. The accounts we've had from refugees speak of violent clashes, pillaging and torching of houses. Refugees tell us the conflict has been brewing for three years and fear it will take time to resolve.

Many of the refugees are currently housed by local Togolese families in traditional huts. Refugees outnumber the host community two-to-one and many are living in schools and other public buildings or staying in tents provided by the Togolese authorities. We are concerned that these tents may not be able to sustain the approaching rainy season.

To encourage reconciliation, the Ghanaian government sent a delegation to visit the refugees last week. The delegation informed people about measures put in place by the Ministry of Security to pacify their villages. It also invited them to return and promised that the Ghanaian government would rebuild the houses of those returning. While some refugees say they are willing to return as soon as they have proof of better security, most say they are not ready to go home.