“We thought we were trying to help people; we didn’t know we were going to benefit this much” – Fetentaa Chief
In 2011 when post-election violence forced some Ivorians to flee to Ghana, getting a community to host them did not come easy. The plan was for the asylum seekers who arrived at the Sampa and Oseikojokrom borders and surrounding areas to be hosted in the Bono Region of Ghana. After several consultations with various communities involving the Ghana Refugee Board, UNHCR, and other stakeholders, the people of Fetentaa agreed to accept the refugees in their community.
According to the Chief of Fetentaa, Nana Kofi Nti Yeboah II, convincing his people to accept the refugees was difficult.
“People were confused about how things would unfold if we accepted the refugees in our midst. They feared their lands would be taken, so they were not in favor.”
Nana Nti II said he had several consultations with his council of elders and people of the community to get them to agree. For Nana, the breakthrough was that he had then been installed as a new Chief and his people had a lot of confidence in him that he would not lead them into something that would bring them problems later.
“I told my people that refugees will return to their country eventually, so for now, let’s help them in whatever way we can as a Godly duty.”
Nana says he was moved by the plight of the refugees and urged his people to accept them on humanitarian grounds without expecting anything in return.
In a bid to ease the burden on the local community hosting refugees, and to promote the integration of services as well as peaceful co-existence, UNHCR, with the support of donors under the Solutions Capital Fund and through its partners, constructed new and expanded existing infrastructure in the areas of health, education, livelihoods, and security. This is in line with the Global Compact on Refugees adopted by the International Community in 2017, which includes responsibility-sharing to ease the burden on the hosting community and enhance refugee self-reliance.
In July 2022, UNHCR handed over the new facilities to the Chief and people of Fetentaa and the Berekum West District Assembly, who have hosted Ivorian refugees for the past 11 years.
The projects included:
1. A community market with 40 sheds and ten lockable stores
2. 12-unit community toilets and five bathrooms
3. A community library
4. A Police station and two bedrooms semi-detached apartments for female Police personnel.
5. 2-bedroom semi-detached apartments for staff of the Ghana Health Service
6. Covid-19 Isolation Centre
7. Five apartments to be used as teachers’ quarters
8. 6-unit fully furnished additional JSS school block with a library and other facilities
9. ICT Centre for the Ghana Education Service
According to UNHCR Country Representative Ms. Esther Kiragu, this aligns with the tenets of UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees. The compact has transformed how the world responds to refugee situations, benefiting refugees and the communities that host them, as opposed to having parallel structures, some for refugees and some for the local population. The compact, launched in 2017, provides a plan for governments and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives until they can return home in safety and dignity.
“As demonstrated following the Cessation of Refugee Status for Ivorians, once a refugee situation is over, and durable solutions are identified and implemented, the host community continues to benefit from these facilities. The approach also promotes peaceful co-existence.” – Ms. Kiragu
When asked how the Fetentaa people feel now about the decision they took 11 years ago to accept refugees in their midst, the Fetentaa Chief said they would do this again when there is an opportunity.
“Looking back, my people and I have never regretted our decision to accept our Ivorian brothers and sisters in our midst. We thought we were trying to help people; we didn’t know we were going to benefit this much.”
Community members could not hold back their appreciation to UNHCR and other stakeholders for the support. The District Coordinating Director, Mr. Emmanuel Amwanchimbey, who spoke on behalf of the District Chief Executive, thanked UNHCR for all the infrastructural projects, which he says will help the community greatly. He assured that care would be taken to maintain the facilities for generations.
The District Director of Health, Ms. Agnes Asiedu, and District Director of Education, Mr. David Owusu-Ansah, spoke of how their staff were commuting from Sunyani and other far-off locations to report to work at Fetentaa. According to them, the accommodation facilities for their staff have positively impacted the community’s health and education outcomes.
For decades, the burden for hosting and supporting large numbers of refugees continue to fall disproportionately on relatively few countries. According to statistics, ten countries host 60 percent of the world’s refugees, and most refugees live in developing countries that face development challenges.
This is what the Global Compact on Refugees sought to address- a new deal for refugees and the communities hosting them. The compact aims to improve protection conditions for refugees in host countries by ensuring that the development of those countries and communities does not suffer because of their generosity. The compact translate the commitments made by 193 UN Member States through adopting the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 into practical, concrete measures.
The global compact is a blueprint to strengthen the international refugee response so that host communities get the timely support they need, refugees get access to health and education, as well as livelihood opportunities to lead productive lives. Fetentaa Community is a successful model of implementing this approach here in Ghana.