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Ghanaian chief opens palace to Togolese refugees


Ghanaian chief opens palace to Togolese refugees

The Chief of Hevi in south-eastern Ghana, not far from the border with Togo, is hosting Togolese refugees in his palace and urging his people to show the same hospitality to the recent arrivals from Togo.
12 May 2005
Regent Tu-Kofi Agbalekpor with the Edzodzi refugee family from Togo.

ACCRA, Ghana, May 12 (UNHCR) - The leader of a chiefdom in south-eastern Ghana has opened his palace to recent arrivals from Togo and urged his people to show the same hospitality to scores of Togolese refugees in the area.

Chief Togbe Tu Agbalekpor III of Hevi and his regent, Tu-Kofi Agbalekpor, convened a meeting on Sunday to formally announce the arrival of the Togolese refugees and appeal to the people to welcome them into their homes. The villagers responded spontaneously, offering rooms and farming land for those interested. Starting that evening, the women of the village have been gathering together and cooking huge pots of cassava and stew for more than 100 refugees.

"The people of Hevi are angels on earth," said Veronica Edzodzi, 29, who fled to Ghana with her sister, husband and young daughter. "You can't believe it until you've experienced their love. It's incredible."

Veronica said her husband, Bernard, had been beaten up at the polling station during Togo's election in late April. The family went into hiding for four days until they felt they could safely make a dash for the Togo-Ghana border. They spent over an hour running, walking and looking anxiously over their shoulders until they reached Ghana.

"There is still no peace in Be," lamented Bernard about his neighbourhood in the Togolese capital, Lomé. "One of my friends came yesterday and confirmed that young men in Be are being picked up in trucks in the night. I'm not taking my family back there until something is done."

Hevi, located some 20 km from the border town of Aflao, has a long history of hosting Togolese refugees and settlers. According to the regent, Togolese have always sought refuge with them and lived cordially with the villagers.

"I'm a father and grandfather," said the 92-year-old regent. "They are all my children. We welcome them with open arms. After all, they are helpless now. Someone has to open their doors for them. We are each our brother's keeper."

A nearby village, Penyi, is also hosting refugees, including some vulnerable cases. Akosua Ewudzi, 78, hobbles about with the help of a cane and is deeply traumatised by her experiences in Lomé.

"I'm from Kodzoviakope and was on my way to visit my brother in Be," she said. "As I got down from the lorry in front of his house, to my horror, I saw the house full of people ransacking and destroying. I started to fall and a Good Samaritan helped me to the beach and loaded me into a vehicle bound for the border area. We got off the vehicle a safe distance away and trekked to Ghana. I came with no clothes and now I don't even know the whereabouts of my family. I don't know anyone here. Look at me, how can I go back to look for them, I can barely walk."

The government of Ghana, together with UNHCR and other aid agencies, have come to the aid of refugees like Ewudzi. They are now living in an unused building in Penyi and UNHCR has provided them with basics such as blankets, mosquito nets, jerry cans, mats, local stoves and cooking utensils. The World Food programme is providing food while the UN Children's Fund is donating hygiene kits.

The number of Togolese arrivals in Ghana since April 26 now stands at over 10,800. Most of them have ties in the community and therefore live with family and friends. Many have been returning to Lomé to work during the day and cross over to spend the night in Ghana because they feel more secure here.

New arrivals have virtually come to a halt, and small numbers have begun returning to Togo in recent days.

By Needa Jehu-Hoyah