A tale of two camps: bustling Buduburam and quiet Krisan
ACCRA, Ghana, July 26 (UNHCR) - The Buduburam and Krisan refugee settlements are both in Ghana and both have opened their gates to large numbers of people uprooted by civil war and persecution - but that's about all they have in common.
Buduburam, with 38,000 largely Liberian refugees, is the biggest camp in Ghana. With its brightly coloured houses, busy market, well-stocked supermarkets, corner shops, jewellery stores, hair salons, video clubs, cinema, churches, temples and mosques, it feels more like a small town than a refugee camp.
Painters, musicians and cafés help enrich life in buzzing Buduburam, which also has a well-equipped health centre and schools that also take in non-refugee children from the local community.
It has an eight-page newspaper, The Vision, which reports on general matters and runs articles on human rights, tolerance and the fight against HIV/AIDS. The fortnightly paper, which is run by the refugees on a non-profit basis, has a print run of 1,000 and is distributed in the camp and to diplomats and aid agencies.
Buduburam even has two Western Union branches where people can transfer money. It all helps make life more normal for the refugees, many of whom have been in the settlement since it opened in 1990 to cope with an influx of Liberians fleeing the civil war in their country.
UNHCR and its local and overseas partners have helped to create the conditions that have allowed people to recreate their former lives, but it is above all the spirit of entrepreneurship and community - and the expertise of its inhabitants - that drives Buduburam, which is located close to the Ghana capital of Accra.
But despite the relative comfort of life in Buduburam, many of the inhabitants are choosing to return to Liberia following the end of the civil war and the restoration of democracy and election of a new president last November. Since October 2004, some 3,500 refugees have returned home from the camp, by land and air. UNHCR is involved in preparations to take back others from Ghana by boat.
"I like being here because I can easily visit my friends in Accra, or go to the stadium to watch soccer games," said Jos Wesley, a Liberian refugee who arrived at Buduburam with his family in the early 1990s. "However, I hope to be able to return soon to Liberia, where my parents have already gone back."
Krisan is a village compared to Buduburam, but it is far more cosmopolitan in its refugee make-up. Located some 300 kilometres west of Accra near the border with Côte d'Ivoire, it is home to 1,700 refugees from several African nations.
It opened in 1996 to house almost 1,800 Liberian refugees packed aboard the Nigerian freighter Bulk Challenge, which was finally allowed to dock in Ghana after days at sea. Some of the Liberians have gone back home, while other refugees have arrived from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Togo.
Krisan is a melting-pot of cultures, religion, passions, dreams and languages. The latter include African languages and dialects, English, French and Arabic. But it lacks the industry seen in Buduburam, though UNHCR has taken steps to get refugees involved in income-generating activities.
"Krisan's lack of vitality shows it is difficult to turn townspeople and intellectuals into farmers," said Aida Haile Mariam, UNHCR representative in Ghana.
"Besides this, living together with several nationalities, several cultures and languages has its ups and downs. This is not the case in Buduburam."
The representative said something must be done quickly to make the refugees become more engaged. She stressed that this could be only be done through voluntary repatriation, integration in Ghana or resettlement in a third country.
Krisan residents defend the place. Tibou Keita, a refugee from Côte d'Ivoire, acknowledged that Buduburam has better facilities and utilities and has the advantage of being close to the capital and work opportunities. But he said the quality of life was better in Krisan, "We are in the middle of the forest, there is no pollution. We have lots of living space, including enough for a vegetable garden."
Thanks to Liberia's steady progression towards stability, UNHCR in February began actively promoting voluntary repatriation. Some 38,000 of the 60,000 refugees in Ghana are from Liberia. A high-level Liberian delegation visited Ghana earlier this month in a bid to encourage more people to return. They met refugees in Buduburam and Krisan and told them about conditions back home.
Since the launch of the voluntary repatriation programme in October 2004, UNHCR has helped some 73,000 Liberian refugees return home, including the 3,500 from Ghana. The repatriation operation is scheduled to end in June 2007.
By Francis Kpatindé in Accra, Ghana