Some 3,500 Ghanaians flee to Togo to escape village feuding

A land dispute between two villages in north-eastern Ghana has forced 3,500 Ghanaians to flee their homes and cross into neighbouring Togo.

ACCRA, Ghana, May 28 (UNHCR) - A violent land dispute between two villages in north-eastern Ghana has forced some 3,500 Ghanaians to flee their homes and cross into neighbouring Togo over the past six weeks.

Ghanaian refugees, presently sheltering in four Togolese villages in the Savane region's Tanjouare district, told UNHCR their houses had been pillaged and destroyed, their belongings torched, since April 18.

"We welcome the prompt reaction of the Togolese authorities, who provided the Ghanaian refugees with immediate emergency assistance and food. According to the findings of a UNHCR assessment mission, the refugees are in need of water, food, shelter and medicines," a UNHCR spokesman said. "Most of these refugees belong to vulnerable groups - there are many children, some of them suffering from diaorrhea and malaria. There are also pregnant and lactating women, elderly and handicapped."

The refugees outnumber the local population and are sharing their diminishing resources. Water is of particular concern and UNHCR, as part of its immediate response, has offered to rehabilitate several wells in the area.

A first UNHCR emergency aid convoy left Accra on Thursday loaded with blankets, mats and cooking sets. Another convoy will leave in the next few days with additional aid, including some 700 tents. The trucks will need almost three days to reach their final destination in northern Togo. The assistance they carry will meet the needs of these refugees for the next three months.

Meanwhile in Togo, UNHCR has helped to identify a new site, further away from the border, where the agency plans to transfer the refugees. "This move will help to improve security and alleviate the pressure on the scarce resources of the host communities and free the public buildings presently used as shelter by refugees," the UNHCR spokesman said.

"Since the Ghanaian refugees come from both villages involved in the violent dispute, UNHCR is working with the local authorities to identify a second site that would allow the separation of the two opposing groups," he added.

Some 60 per cent of arrivals are children and adolescents, so UNHCR and its partners plan to also bring and distribute education materials.

This is not the first time civilians from the Ghanaian villages have crossed into Togo seeking safety and shelter. In early March, some 300 people fled to Togo due to the same land dispute, but returned home within a few weeks. This time, however, the refugees claim they have lost everything and are not willing to return.