Africa-Press – Liberia. The wellbeing and survival of over 4000 Liberian refugeesresiding at the Budumburam Camp in Ghana remain at stake and threatened as a result of the snail-pace intervention of the Government of Liberia (GOL) towards the planned demolition exercise announced by its Ghanaian counterparts.
It can be recalled that the Government of Ghana sometimes ago requested thousands of Liberians residing on the camp to vacate the area in line with the agreed deadline of September 30.
Following the end of the grace period given, the country’s security actors early attempted to go ahead with the demolition in a bid to compel Liberians, who considered themselves as refugees, to relinquish the camp to make way for development.
But their actions met a stiff resistance from not only Liberians, residing on the camp, but scores of other refugees from neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. The Liberian refugees at the camp described themselves as the “worst unfortunate integrated people living in the world”.
They claimed that since the pronouncement was made by the Ghanaian government, they have been having sleeping nights, as traditional chiefs in the country have begun allocating acres of land to themselves at the camp.
The Liberian refugees claimed that though they have made over three decades in Ghana, the separate residential permits given to them by authorities in the West African nation prohibit them from engaging into commercial activities or working to earn a living or cater to their respective family members.
They maintained that the branding them as “prostitutes and criminals” by a local official of the Ghanaian government has made it impossible for them to be resettled in a third country of their choice.
In a video posted by Cititube, a local television station in Ghana, the District Chief Executive for Gomoa, Mr. Salemon Darko Quarm was heard alleging that the Buduburam camp is being used as a hideout for prostitution and other crimes. Mr. Quarm also alleged that many of the crimes committed in nearby cities are linked to persons inside the camp.
Speaking during a meeting with the acting National Vice Chairman for International Relationsof the People’s Liberation Party, Mr. David Benitoe on Sunday, October 10, 2021 in Ghana, the former Chairman of the refugees under the banner, Association of Liberian Residents in Ghana (ALICO-GH), Mr. Varney B. Sambola,pointed out that the current situation has the proclivity of stirring up “international crisis” if interventions are not made to discourage the Ghanaian government from carryout its planned demolition.
The association seeks the wellbeing of the thousands of Liberians who considered themselves as refugees at the Buduburam Camp. “We are the most unfortunate locally integrated people in West Africa and we cannot cry loud because of the kind of tag they (Ghanaian authorities) have put on. We are having sleepless nights. Our plight is very difficult and we need help desperately. We are dying slowly”.
“We are not saying that there are not criminals in this place, but are Liberians criminals? We are not part of any felonious crimes. Our point is, if you demolish this Camp, where will all these Liberians going to be?”
There have been conflicting accounts over the exact number of Liberian refugees residing at the Buduburam Camp. According to Mr. Sambola, the current statistics of 350 Liberian refugees being used by the Ghanaian authorities are figures of Liberians who reportedly disagreed to be locally integrated or sent back to Liberia.
He indicated that those citizens were vetted and they continue to maintain refugee status, while thousands of other Liberians have not been documented by the Ghana Refugee Board (GRB).
He noted that those who agreed to be locally reintegrated are among the over 4000 others currently residing at the camp. Mr. Sambola maintained that international protocols which compel nations to provide homes and identifications for refugees have not been adequately followed by the Ghanaian government.
The sticky issues
He pointed out that the Ghanaian authorities were to construct housing units and relocate the refugees elsewhere, and also construct, renovate or elevate schools within the area.
“They were supposed to build police station, fire station, nurses’ quarters in the area that we supposed to be locally integrated. The Chiefs that are talking today were part of that discussion and they were clapping”.
Mr. Sambola noted that the current conditions of most of those residing at the Camp remain appalling and as such, they cannot go back home with their hands swinging to start life over from zero.
“Some people have lived here for 31 years. Some people came here they were 25 years and if you add 31 to their ages, you know what we talking about? There are people here with stroke, people here disabled; children are here without fathers and mothers; there are old people who got no relatives here”.
“We are people who came here based upon Convention; if even you want us to leave this particular place, the Coronavirus, rainy season, borders all around closed and you ask us to leave? Don’t see us laughing and looking like this. If you bring a psychiatrist now to check us, many of us have mental problem. We are dying psychologically”.
The Concept Paper
Liberian refugees and others on the Camp are pointing to a Concept Paper document reportedly signed between the Ghanaian authorities and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
According to Mr. Sambola, issues highlighted in the document, including arranging with the Chiefs for a suitable 700-acre of land and liaising with the United Nations for the construction of homes, have not come to fruition.
“Was it that our numbers were high and they couldn’t construct those houses or they did plan to coerce us (to sign the Concept Paper?”
No real interest
The Liberian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dee Maxwell Kemayah held an impromptu meeting with the leadership of the Liberian Community on the Buduburam Camp at an undisclosed venue on October 5, 2021. Minister Kemayah had gone to Accra, Ghana to primarily participate in the just ended ECOWAS ministerial meeting held in the country.
Despite his decision taken to meet with the leadership of the Liberian Community at the Buduburam Camp, vast majority of Liberians residing at the camp observed that the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government of President George Manneh Weah is showing no real interest towards the current situation they are faced with.
According to Mr. Sambola, the closed proximity of President George Manneh Weah to the Ghanaian President Nana Addo, appears to be one of the contributing factors why the Liberian government is taking so long to officially intervene.
“The question I get to ask Liberia, what modalities are you putting together to come or arrange with the Ghanaian government so that your people, even if they are living here, they should live with dignity. If there is any option that is going to happen for people to benefit, let them benefit”.
“I can laugh at people who can say, ‘no war in your country why your can’t come back. Those people are wicked people. We came here because of war, but there was no war in Ghana here and the Ghanaians went to Liberia. Why they can’t come back too?” Mr. Sambola stated.
“As we speak now, the Ghanaian Chiefs have divided the land that we are on already. You will see sign boards the land for this other chief, this other chief. This means that even at night, we are all at risk”, Emmanuel T. Nimely stated.
The passport saga
Liberian refugees residing who have been given status to be locally integrated in Ghana have raised issues on a clause which was indicated on the resident permits stamped in their respective Liberian passports.
The clause in the resident permit stamped in the locally integrated Liberian refugees in Ghana passport reads: “No other occupation or business for reward permitted”.
The present Chairman of ALICO-Ghana, Mr. Dennis Gwion, claimed that the decision taken by the Ghanaian government to single out them through the indication of the clause in their respective passports has greatly affected them over the years.
“The Ghanaian government vetted 3000 persons and they only took 300 persons to be refugees and we do not know the benchmark they used. They dismissed over 2,700 persons. They gave us Liberian passports and the Ghanaian resident permit.
But the resident permit was restrictive that we can’t do anything. They supposed to give us work permit. For our people to even succeed in their businesses, it’s difficult because, no one will buy from them”.
“We believed that the integration process has not ended and they need to end the process. We cannot move from here just like that; some of us don’t have any relatives back home”.
Changing of IDs
For her part, Apostle Deborah George, Spiritual Head of Women at the Camp, recalled that in 2003, refugee identification cards were given to many Liberians residing on the camp by the authorities in Ghana, while few others were denied..
She added that the authorities have allegedly been in the constant habit of changing the refugee ID cards every year, and the motive behind the decision remains unknown.
“The first ID cards they issued had no expiration date. But this one has. If you carry this one to the bank or mobile money to collect your money, they will tell you that we are very sorry. Refugees do not really have a status in Ghana here that can qualify us to even take money from the bank or mobile money; only the health insurance”.
The Liberian refugees expressed fear that hundreds of them and citizens of other West African countries residing on the camp in Ghana would lose their lives and other valuable properties if interventions are not made promptly to persuade the Ghanaians authorities from carrying on the demolition exercise.
When contacted at his office, the Camp Manager representing the Ghanaian Refugee Board (GRB), Arnorld Obidieh declined to comment on the matter on grounds that he has not been authorized by his bosses to do so.
But a high ranking official of the GRB, who spoke on condition of anonymity, disclosed that the camp was decommissioned by the UN following two successive elections held in Liberia.
The source added that only 350 households have been captured by the entity and not all of those households are on the Budumburam camp, noting that only 400 persons have been recognized as refugees on the camp.
The source maintained that the amount of US$400 was given to Liberian refugees to pay their rent following the decommissioning of the camp. The money was reportedly provided by the Danish and American government.
“Following the closure of the camp by UN, Liberian refugees were given options; either to be locally integrated or repatriated to Liberia. We had a vocational skills training program for them but many Liberian refugees turned down the offer to acquire vocational skills. Nobody said we were going to give them jobs; even Ghanaians look for jobs”.
“Those who opted to return to their country went to Liberia for short time and came back to Ghanaand we told them that they are no longer refugees”. Liberian refugees were accused of returning to Ghana along with other family members and friends to stay with them at the Budumburamcamp.
The source disclosed that Liberian refugees who agreed to be locally integrated in Ghana were given their respective Liberian passports, work permits and one-year free national medical insurance.
“We gave them their work permit and they are allowed to work here. The reason why some of them have a problem is because in the work permit there is a clause that employer should get in contact with the GRB if they are not sure; but they don’t have to get to us”.
“All they need to do is just take their permits to whoever wants to employ them; if there is a problem, just call us”.
The source admitted that the clause within the passport is “confusing”, but it does not in any way imply that Liberian refugees are restricted from working in Ghana.
He pointed out that though the refugees are not being provided food and housing by the Ghanaian authorities presently before the deadline for occupants of the Budumburam camp to vacate the area. The Ghanaian government has requested all occupants at the camp to vacate before December 1, 2021 or risk being forcefully evicted.
“Right now, we are only concerned about the 350 Liberian refugees on the camp and from now to December 1, we will find place for them. We will take them to another refugee camp. As for the others, they will have to leave”, the source added.
Despite spending over three decades in the West African nation, Liberian refugees are pleading forjust three things-relocation to new homes, provision of starter kits through finances and a full and clear residential permit that will enable them work, take loans from commercial banks operating in the country, do businesses and live normally as compel to Ghanaians and other foreign citizens residing in the country.
Many of them want to return to their motherland but the lack of homes and finances to guarantee the survival remain the unresolved issues. Presently, the Government of Ghana remains “cut between the scissors” as ongoing negotiations and interventions continue to mount up to discourage it from carrying on the planned demolition which would victimized the over 11, 000 residents, including women, children and old folks currently squatting on the 141-acres of land holding the Budumburam Camp. The camp was opened when thousands of Liberians fled civil crisis which broke out in Liberia in 1990.