UNHCR urges peaceful resolution of Togo crisis
GENEVA, April 27 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is urging governments in the West African region to continue to work with the Togolese to find a peaceful solution to the current political crisis. Some 1,200 refugees from Togo, concerned about the deteriorating security situation in their home country, crossed over into neighbouring Benin and Ghana to seek safety after the election results were announced on Tuesday.
"We are deeply concerned about the situation in Togo and are hoping there will be a peaceful resolution to this crisis with the continuing help of governments in the region," said UNHCR's Africa bureau director, David Lambo. "The last thing we want to see is a major upheaval of the civilian population who feel forced to flee across the borders."
On Tuesday night, after clashes broke out in Togo's capital Lomé and other cities following the election results, some 600 refugees crossed over into Benin - 371 at the Hilakondji border and the remainder at Athieme, both in southern Benin. On Wednesday, more refugees arrived, bringing the total in Benin to 874.
Early Wednesday, a 12-member UNHCR team, along with teams from the government and local non-governmental organisations, was deployed to the border area to oversee the refugee's registration, despatch to sites and assistance. A team from a local fire brigade also went to help put up tents.
A team from UNHCR's implementing partner Caritas and the Red Cross was immediately deployed to assist the refugees - mainly women and children - by providing shelter and distributing food and water.
On Togo's western border, a group of 171 persons - 106 Togolese and the rest Ghanaian citizens - fled across the border into the Kejebi area of Ghana, north of Jasikan on Tuesday afternoon, saying they'd feared further violence after a scuffle over ballot boxes at a local polling station resulted in armed forces opening fire.
On Wednesday, a further 221 Togolese arrived in the same district, claiming they'd fled because of attacks by security forces. The refugees have been temporarily housed in schools.
"Some of these refugees have crossed the border as a pre-emptive measure, just waiting to see what will happen in Togo. We are hoping that this is not the first sign of a major influx, that calm will be restored, and people will return," said Lambo.
Nevertheless, UNHCR has taken precautionary measures ahead of any potential outflow, and has worked closely on an inter-agency contingency plan. Earlier in April, two UNHCR emergency officers were deployed to Ghana and Benin to assess facilities for any refugee influx. Some non-food items from the refugee agency's regional warehouse in Accra, Ghana, have been pre-positioned in Benin in case of need.
By Jennifer Pagonis in Geneva