Refugees say Togo's town areas emptying out; exodus exceeds 20,000
COTONOU, Benin, May 4 (UNHCR) - Towns in Togo are emptying out as people flee post-election insecurity, say refugees arriving in neighbouring Benin and Ghana. More than 20,000 Togolese are now in exile, including a number of unaccompanied minors.
The number of arrivals now stands at 10,658 in Benin and 9,979 in Ghana, just over a week after Togo's election results were announced on April 26.
"The situation in Togo seems calm but uneasy after the election results were confirmed yesterday. Refugees are continuing to cross the border and we are still hearing reports from some refugees that they have been roughed up by security forces," said UNHCR's head of West Africa operations, Michel Gaudé.
Yara Ouro Agoro arrived in Benin from central Togo. He said that he fled after three of his friends were killed by security forces and 50 houses belonging to sympathizers of the opposition were burnt to ashes.
At Hilakondji, the main border crossing point into south-western Benin, 17-year-old Yannick looks tired. He fled Togolese capital Lomé for Benin after hiding in the bushes for five days with a group of other Togolese to see how the situation would evolve.
"I was living with an aunt before going into hiding," he explained. "When I returned home I found the house empty. My aunt was gone." Yannick is among the nearly 100 minors arriving unaccompanied in Benin who receive special care from UNHCR in Come and Lokossa camps.
Several other refugees from Lomé also told UNHCR that their neighbourhoods had been emptied after the residents fled. Others said that Aneho, the last Togolese town in the extreme south-east, was also emptying out.
Most of the refugees in Benin are living with family and friends, with UNHCR providing transport for new arrivals who wish to stay with relatives. Those without family support have been transferred to Come camp (1,344), which is now full, and Lokossa camp (1,429), which is being expanded to accommodate 5,000 people.
UNHCR's partner, Caritas, has distributed food, mats, blankets and mosquito nets to some 300 refugees still staying on church grounds near the border. The refugee agency will also provide assistance to another group of 200 refugees found living in empty buildings in Agoué, 3 km away, who say they prefer to remain there instead of moving to a camp.
"Although the majority of refugees have been sheltering with relatives and friends, more and more of them are now turning to UNHCR for help because their host families are too poor to take care of them," said Rafik Saidi, UNHCR's Regional Representative based in Benin.
UN agencies in Benin have decided to join efforts to provide such refugee-hosting families with humanitarian assistance and to reinforce social infrastructure such as schools and health facilities to help them cope with the new arrivals.
Meanwhile, a 10-truck convoy carrying relief materials for refugees reached Benin today. The supplies include tents, blankets, jerry cans, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets for 5,000 refugees, supplementing relief items already pre-positioned for 2,500 refugees.
UNHCR is sending a second three person emergency team to Benin before the weekend, to back up a similar team sent four days ago. A senior emergency and security staff member is currently in Ghana reviewing the situation and is scheduled to travel to Benin in the coming days.
In Ghana, the flow of refugees remains steady, although there was a small but sudden surge in arrivals reported at Aflao border point adjacent to Lomé on Tuesday, as a result of neighbourhood searches by security forces, refugees said.
By Fatoumata Kaba in Cotonou, Benin