Disturbances in neighboring Burkina Faso following Jihadists attacks have resulted in the continuous influx of Burkinabe asylum seekers to the Northern parts of Ghana calling for the need for urgent humanitarian assistance to support the new arrivals.
UNHCR, the UN refugee Agency and the Ghana Refugee Board (GRB) in responding to the situation have jointly convened a High-Level Consultative Dialogue involving key stakeholders on issues relating to the influx of the Burkinabes to the Northern parts of Ghana. The aim was to develop a Refugee Response Plan for the Upper East and Upper West – the two regions hosting most of the asylum seekers. The meeting brought together stakeholders from the Ministry of the Interior, Ghana Refugee Board, Regional Ministers and District Chief Executives from the affected areas, the Ghana Immigration Service, the Ghana Police Service, and the National Intelligence Bureau. One of the conclusions was for the need for both the UNHCR and GRB, as the key coordinators in refugee emergencies, to establish a presence in the North of Ghana, in both the Upper East and the Upper West regions. This is expected to facilitate their coordination role, the registration of asylum seekers and prompt provision of assistance to those most in need.
The meeting also resolved to provide land for a Reception Centre and for a Settlement for those who may not have any family to host them. In general, two thirds of the new arrivals are being hosted in the villages and a third are in makeshift shelters near the border.
Minister for the Interior, Mr. Ambrose Dery (whose speech was read by the Chief Director of the Interior Ministry), called for immediate support for the asylum seekers and the hosting communities to ease the burden on social amenities and mitigate the impact on host communities.
“Communities who, true to the proverbial Ghanaian hospitality, have given up part of their already scarce resources to ensure that the visitors are as comfortable as possible. GRB and UNHCR must ensure that appropriate interventions are made for the Burkinabes to ameliorate the situation of their gracious hosts.”
Mr. Dery said it was important for the country to be alert while receiving the asylum seekers as any movement of asylum seekers worldwide had its attendant security risks. “More so given the situation we have in the Upper Regions of our beloved country; it is of utmost importance that we continue to be conscious of the risks that exist in the areas hosting Burkinabes.”
The Minister called for proper coordination of interventions by humanitarian agencies to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure efficient use of available resources.
The two Regional Ministers presented updates of the humanitarian situation in their respective regions while calling for urgent attention to address the needs to ease the pressure on social services.
UNHCR Representative, Ms. Esther Kiragu, thanked the government and people of Ghana for their generosity in hosting refugees over the years and facilitating solutions to their plight as has been the case with Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, and other nationalities.
She announced that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has elevated the Burkina Faso Situation into a Level one Emergency to amplify the need for better preparedness given the escalating security situation there. Ms. Kiragu said as the situation in Burkina Faso, (where over 74,000 have fled the country and about 1.8 million people are in IDP camps) is worsening, there was the possibility that more Burkinabes will seek asylum in neighboring countries including Ghana.
“Lately, and as the new arrivals have told us, not only have the attacks from non-state armed actors increased, but those that were providing aid, are no longer able to gain access to them” she explained.
“In UNHCR, experience has taught us that when you see people fleeing IDP camps across international borders, expect more people because this is a sign of deteriorating security situation. We need to be ready to receive and manage the situation as the numbers increase”
Subsequently, to ensure all humanitarian actors were well-informed and aware of developments, the Ghana Refugee Board and UNHCR organised the first coordination meeting with non-government stakeholders including sister UN Agencies such as UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP in Ghana to share information and coordinate response action. These coordination and information sharing meetings will be held at regular intervals.
Prior to the dialogue session, a delegation from the Ghana Refugee Board and UNHCR visited some of the affected communities in the Northern part of Ghana including Sapeliga and Binduri to interact with the new arrivals and assess the pressing needs on the ground.
The Team met with some Chiefs in the hosting communities, District Assemblies, and officials from the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO). They also visited communities in Binduri and Sapeliga in the Upper East Region which has become home to some asylum seekers. After the interactions, it was found out that top on their immediate needs was food, shelter, WASH, and livelihood opportunities.
Many people arriving there are staying with host families and in makeshift shelters. Host community members say they are stretched as they must share the little, they have with the asylum seekers.
Bukari Sule, a member of the Sapeliga community, said members of the community took it upon themselves to go round the community to solicit contributions from community members to support the asylum seekers.
“When they came, there was no food for them and no place for them to sleep. If you see a fellow human being who has run and come because of war and you know what war is, you will want to help them.”
Community people say they were touched by the plight of the asylum seekers.
“We are indigenous people in the community. We know where to pass to get food. But they are strangers; where will they pass if we don’t help them?” -said 37-year old Mumuni Fatao, a member of the community.
Some asylum seekers say they have no immediate plans of returning to Burkina Faso and called for immediate support, especially in livelihoods, to enable them to make ends meet.