Hundreds return to Togo from Ghana
GENEVA/ COTONOU, May 10 (UNHCR) - The exodus from Togo has slowed to a trickle while hundreds of Togolese refugees have returned home from Ghana, citing improved security in their homeland. Those in Benin, however, say they are not ready to go back to Togo.
In total, some 23,300 Togolese refugees have been registered in neighbouring Benin and Ghana since April 26, when violence erupted in Togo after the election results were announced. More than half of them - 12,483 - are in Benin and 10,856 are in Ghana.
Ghana has seen only 18 new arrivals at the main Aflao border post over the last two days. A reverse flow started during the weekend, with 600 refugees returning to Lomé - just across the border - on Sunday and 250 on Monday, many taking their belongings.
"Returnees said they'd heard on the radio that Lomé was calm, while others said they wanted to return to work on Monday," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. "Many refugees have been working in Lomé by day and going to sleep in Ghana overnight, saying they felt more secure."
Almost all the Togolese refugees in Ghana are now living with family and friends. In the Aflao area, some 700 refugees staying with host families have received relief supplies from UNHCR, including blankets, mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans and kitchen utensils. Other aid agencies have also been helping the host families to cope with the impact of the refugee influx.
On Wednesday, a food assessment team comprising members of the Ghanaian government, Catholic Relief Services, the UN World Food Programme, UNICEF and UNHCR will travel along a 200-km stretch of border from Jasikan in the north to Aflao in the south. After evaluating the food needs of refugees in the area, they will organise a targeted food distribution for those most in need.
In Benin, 162 new arrivals were recorded at the main Hilakondji border post on Monday, a sharp drop from over 1,000 per day in the early days of the influx. No returns have been noted, with refugees saying they are not ready to go back to Togo under the current political situation.
"I was supposed to be on duty but I was scared and did not go to work. When I go back, I will probably lose my job," said a midwife from Lomé. Another refugee, a teacher, added, "I fled the staff room. I do not know what fate we will face now. We would rather lose our jobs, the important thing is that we are alive."
UNHCR's Regional Representative, Rafik Saidi, noted, "Now that the initial emergency is over and the influx is slowing, we can focus on improving living conditions for the new arrivals."
More than 3,500 refugees are now living in two camps in Benin - Come, which is now full, and Lokossa, where the population is growing steadily. UNHCR is working to improve living conditions at the camps by rearranging the tents in Lokossa, organising garbage collection and sewerage systems in both camps and at the Hilakondji transit centre.
There are believed to be more than some 7,300* Togolese refugees living outside the camps, including over 500 in Cotonou, some 350 in Hilakondji and some 350 in the Tchetti area north of the main border crossing. Some of them are living with friends and relatives, but fear they may overstay their welcome.
"In the beginning, they seem to accept you," said the midwife from Lomé, who is staying with a former patient in Cotonou. "But if it goes on longer, we may feel we are being chased away."
Another refugee, a man in his 30s, adds, "I am hosted by a Beninese friend, but it is a bit difficult to eat. He does not have a job and at this rate, he will not sustain very long. In the morning, I wait for him to propose something to eat. It will be good for me if I can find something to do."
Then there are other concerns. "School is very important to me," said a foreign language student from Lomé. "I would like to continue my studies and regain my means of education." He echoes other refugee students' worries that they will not be able to complete the school year and sit for their exams because of the uncertainty back home.
UNHCR is working with the Beninese government to help these students continue their education. The refugee agency is also helping to reinforce sanitation and health infrastructure so that the local communities can better cope with the refugee influx.
By Jennifer Pagonis and Julie Leduc
* Figure amended on May 11