Togo outflow passes 16,500 mark

The number of people fleeing insecurity in post-election Togo has risen to more than 16,500, some of them citing harassment by security forces. More than 2,000 have been moved to camps further inland in Benin, while those in Ghana are crossing back home to work in the daytime.

Togolese refugees arriving at Hilakondji across the lagoon separating Togo and Benin.   © UNHCR/F.Kaba

HILAKONDJI, Benin, May 2 (UNHCR) - The number of people fleeing insecurity in post-election Togo has risen to more than 16,500, some of them citing harassment by security forces.

By this morning, more than 9,000 Togolese had been registered in Benin and some 7,500 in Ghana. Both countries bordering Togo have seen a growing influx of refugees since Togo's election results were announced on April 26.

"Until this weekend we had been mostly witnessing arrivals from Aneho, close to the Benin border. Now the new trend is arrivals from (Togolese capital) Lomé and particularly from the neighbourhood of Be, in spite of the gradual return to calm in Lomé," said Rafik Saidi, UNHCR's Regional Representative for Togo, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. He was speaking in Benin's capital, Cotonou.

Some of the refugees said they had been harassed by the security forces in Togo. Those arriving with injuries have received medical treatment at a church compound in Hilakondji, the main crossing point in Benin.

Kouakou Houlkpam, an 18-year-old from Messacondji in Aneho, was unable to walk after he was shot in the legs. "I had come from buying beans and was about to enter the house when a bullet hit me in my right leg and crossed into my left leg, where it remained," he recounted as he scratched the skin around his bandage. His family immediately took him to the hospital, where the bullet was removed.

Fisherman Kouassi Kloussa, also from Aneho, arrived in Benin on Saturday with 14 other members of his family. To escape the harassment, he said, they swam 800 metres to safety and waited in muddy waters for a while. "My wife tied one of our three-year-old twins on her back and the other on her chest and we went into the water. As she swam, pitiless soldiers continued to throw tear gas at her and the boys," he said.

Like many of the recent arrivals in Benin, Kloussa is on the lookout for family members left behind. He is expecting two young brothers to join the rest of the family in Benin soon. Meanwhile, he has opted to go to Lokossa refugee camp, a new site opened by the UN refugee agency on Saturday. One thousand refugees have already been moved to the new camp, and work is underway to expand the camp to house an additional 5,000 people.

Another group of more than 1,000 refugees are living in Come camp. Some 300 refugees staying in the church grounds at Hilakondji are expected to move shortly to a new transit site being prepared at Grand Popo. The majority of the new arrivals, however, are being hosted by extended family or friends.

The situation is similar in Ghana. "With very few exceptions, arrivals in the Afloa area have been welcomed into the homes of relatives and friends," said Thomas Albrecht, UNHCR's Representative in Ghana. "Others have rented accommodation, usually for a short period only."

UNHCR's head of West Africa operations, Michel Gaudé, added, "We have to exercise a little bit of caution over the numbers in Ghana as it seems some refugees from Lomé are coming over at the Aflao border crossing to stay the night in Ghana for safety, then returning to work in Lomé during the day."

Most of the refugees have said they hope to return to Togo in the coming days as the situation calms down. In the meantime, local non-governmental and church organisations are providing food and basic supplies to those most in need of assistance.

UNHCR is continuing to monitor the border area to verify new arrivals.

By Fatoumata Kaba