Monday, March 24, 2008

Why Liberian Refugees refused integration into Ghanaian Society

By: Semantics King Jr., Minneapolis

Ghanaians have always made the world or at least Africans to believe that the proverbial Ghanaian “Akwaba” is genuine and obviously observable when people from other countries are living or temporarily resident on Ghanaian soil.
And there is no doubt about how they sing praises with how hospitable, friendly and accommodating Ghanaians are. They pride themselves as being true Africans.
There was no wonder then, when victims of Liberia’s civil war decided to seek refuge in this hospitable African country in the early ‘90s.
When the first batch of 25 Liberian refugees arrived in Ghana in 1990, Ghanaians under the able leadership of Ghana’s president, Jerry John Rawlings who also later became the chairman of the regional body of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), openly accepted the Liberians.
Though this writer was not a member of that first group of refugees, he spoke to some surviving members of that group of people and found that Ghanaians even offered the refugees their personal homes to live in, gave them food to eat and even helped some to attend school in Ghana at the expense of some Ghanaian hosts.
In fact, when some Liberians were stranded on sea in 1996 onboard the Bulk Challenge Ship during Liberia’s shortest but fiercest war in central Monrovia, other west African countries refused to allow the ship land with the huge number of suffering and hungry Liberian refugees on their soil but Ghana did.
And there may be several other stories never heard of on how some Ghanaians assisted their Liberian African neighbors (it’s only Ivory Coast that is between Ghana and Liberia in terms of geographic locations and English is spoken in Ghana as in Liberia unlike Ivory Coast).
Therefore someone reading this might say wow that was great help given Liberians in Ghana. So getting adjusted or (as the UN refugee agency calls it) integrated into Ghanaian society should not be a problem for any Liberian refugee in Ghana.
Oh sure enough if you consider the above accounts which have been made public by many Ghanaians and even some Liberians.
But there is the other side of the coin. That side is always hidden and perhaps a secret that nobody dares talk about. No.
This writer,then himself a refugee but a relatively dispassionate journalist who lived and worked in Ghana from 2000 to 2006, knows all too well events that happened in the Liberian refugee camp and even those in Ghanaian communities because he traveled across all regions of Ghana and worked with a few Ghanaian dailies in Accra.
In May 2000, there was a serious scuffle between the Liberian refugees in Buduburam and the Ghanaian police force. During that time, live bullets were fired at Liberian refugees and when arguably Ghana’s best radio station Joy F.M reported about how Ghanaian police over-reacted to the refugee situation in the camp, it broadcast vividly describing the situation on air and it’s reporter that saw the incident said that was inhumane.
Unfortunately, however, that particular news item was withdrawn during the subsequent newscast on Joy F.M. leaving many discerning listeners to wonder what was happening to Joy since it has a custom of repeating news items regularly but not this one.
The incident involving the police and the refugees that day arose when refugees had captured a Ghanaian who was using long-pointed iron(used in Africa to kill frogs at night) to harm and eventually kill the refuges at night.
Due to the heat in Ghana coupled with the fact that most of the houses that refugees lived in were built with mud, living or sleeping in them at night can be a real oven. Therefore, the refugees used to leave their windows opened at night to catch the mid-night cozy breeze that would put them to sleep.
It was during this time that a Ghanaian was arrested harming another Liberian refugee family at night and turned over to the Camp Police.
Unfortunately, however, the police refused to prosecute the Ghanaian as he was released without any explanation from the Ghanaian authority in the refugee camp, so the refugees were clamoring for justice to be meted against him. But the police refused and the refugees said they wouldn’t leave the camp police station. Reinforcement was called from the nearby Military based and began firing directly at the refugees. Many were wounded severely.
Between 2001 and 2002, several children were reported missing and up to now there are no reports indicating they have been found at all.
On February 23, 2003 Ghana police forcefully rounded all men age 15 up on the soccer patch after one of Ghana’s newspapers, The Chronicles reported that Buduburam was a training base for fighters in the war in Ivory Coast. No weapons were found among the refugees. They were however, threatened by Ghana’s military commander, Brigadier General Danquah.
During that early morning raid, police and sniffer dogs including war helicopter were used to round up the men. The men remained in the scorching sun from 4am till 6pm Ghana time. Nobody condemn Ghana for violating the rights of refugees.
Before releasing the refugee men, security forces subjected them to insults, and branded them as criminals, rebels, and armed robbers, prostitutes and drug-traffickers.
In order instances, refugees have been arrested unjustly and incarcerated in prisons without due process of law. Reports from families indicate that some of the refugees were taken away by Ghana police and have never been seen since.
In Oct 2005 James Miller, a young and brilliant Liberian man was murdered in Awutu, a village near the refugee camp and his body parts cut into pieces like market meat. His killers are still at large.
Prior to that gruesome murder, several Liberian kids were found dead in the refugee camp with some of their body parts taken away by their killers for ritualistic reasons
In March 2006, a beautiful Liberian refugee woman, Joyce Wilson was killed in a hotel in Accra and her killers are still at large even today.
Although the camp Manager Cal Afun who is a Ghanaian said in a mass camp residents meeting at the Refuge Baptist Church that “nobody had the right to kill her”, Ghana police investigations continue without establishing the killers.
As if Joyce’s murder was not enough, another Liberian refugee woman, 30-year-old Amelia Gymulnee-Whitersoon was allegedly stabbed and burned to death on June 8,2006 at 10pm Ghanaian time in the refugee camp.
In April 2006,a 48-year-old Ghanaian man, Kojo Antwi allegedly raped a nine-year-old Liberian refugee girl while she was returning home from school in the camp. The case is still pending in Ghana as we speak.
Then in July, just before this writer left the refugee camp for the United States on July 26,2006,another Liberian refugee woman, Linda Johnson was nearly killed in Accra by some Ghanaian men had it not been God’s grace. Today, the attempted killers are moving about freely in the land of Gold.
The chairman of the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council, Varney Sambola asked as rhetorical question during one of the camp residents’ meetings, and I wish to reecho the same question, “when will enough be enough?” Where are the authorities both UNHCR and Ghana? When will the investigations end and the culprits brought to justice? When will violence against Liberian refugee women be as unacceptable as all other forms of violence?
I ask each one of you reading this article to just take a moment and think about the hardships that Liberian refugees in general but Liberian refugee women in Ghana in particular face with the passing of each day?
Do you think any Liberian refugee in Ghana experiencing such abuses will be willing and able to integrate in Ghanaian society?
Liberian refugees who were accepted to further their education at the University of Ghana, Legon are asked to pay their tuitions in foreign fees (almost $27,000united States dollars) while their Ghanaian counter-parts pay in Ghanaian cedis (less than a million cedis per semester or so). Is that a sign of integration for Liberian refugees?
In June 2007, the Nigerian government asked Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean refugees who refused to return home to integrate in Nigerian society and the refugees accepted. Why? Because refugees from those countries had been enormously helped by the Nigerian people, Nigerian churches and even Nigerian government.
Those refugees attending Nigerian Universities pay their tuition in Naira and not United States dollars as in Ghana just the same amounts that Nigerian nationals are paying for higher education. Many Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean refugees are offered well-paying jobs in Nigeria.
We have not heard of reports about how Liberian refugees in Nigeria are being killed by unknown men or people despite the fact that Nigeria has a very high crimes rate.
When the women refugees were demonstrating for increment to $1,000 in their repatriation package or they be resettled to third countries of asylum, a request that was directed at the UNHCR and not the government and people of Ghana, these were reactions from some Ghanaians all over the world.
“I think it’s time for the government of Ghana to send these guys out without any regards to international laws,” writes Prince, a Ghanaian in the United States.
“Stupid fools, western countries indeed. I don’t think Ghanaians can do this in any country, look at Libya even Gambia doing to our people over there. God bless Ghana.”
Another Ghanaian, Steve Acquah wrote on MyJoyOnline “these guys are crazy. They (Ghana government) have to throw them back to Liberia. Who told them to fight and become refugees? Ahhhh, in the first place, they (refugees) have not contributed in anyway to help in the development of our great country. They must be kicked out. Look at the way other African countries treat us when we are there….”
Ablorh Adjei, another Ghanaian wrote: “I think it’s time we tell the Liberians at Buduburam to go home and help rebuild their country rather than encourage them to stay in Ghana doing nothing”, he said online.
“We have had enough of them and their actions. They must go before they turn around and tell us in December that they are being prevented from voting in the presidential and Parliamentary elections.”
Another Ghanaian, only identified as Baby, reacting to a comment made by another said “you are very funny to say the kind of trash you are rattling about. What freedom of speech gives these ingrates the rights to demand and complain so badly? I surely presume you are a Liberian yourself because no right thinking Ghanaian would bring out such thrash” Baby said.
“Let these people go back to Liberia and help Johnson Sirleaf and co rebuild the country Charles Taylor destroyed, after all what other benefits other than chasing our married men, prostitution, and armed robbery we are getting from them. If you want to settle to Europe, first visit your equally peace hating Iraq and proceed from there. God is watching all you Liberians who seem ungrateful after all we have done for you, your rewards await you Western world indeed you chaotic lots. Please send these people back to Monrovia before they petition the UN of our devoiding them of their rights to vote as Liberian born Ghanaians.”
Another Ghanaian claiming to be writing from the United Kingdom who only identified himself as Asempa wrote, “These Liberians are first class ingrates. The government should dispose of them from Sikaman Ghana as rubbish with immediate effect otherwise, I will also mobilize some people from Kasoa, Weija and Buduburam camp area for counter demonstration against these ungrateful idiots,” he said.
“Can any of these idiots justify their demands? What had been their contribution to the local economy apart from prostitution and armed robbery? Liberia is safe now so they should go away as soon as possible.”
These are the people among whom UNHCR or the government of Ghana expect Liberian refugees to live. Is that not clear sign that integration for Liberian refugees in Ghanaian society would be even more disastrous than what is unfolding now?
Many Liberian refugees have been killed by cars while walking to the roadside to search for water. Records I met in Ghana indicate that for the last 10 years, Liberian refugees were deprived of pipe-borne water.
As a result, many risked their lives in search of water from boreholes, streams and other unhygienic sources.
Regarding shelter, refugees have built their own structures using their own means and money sent to them by relatives and friends from abroad over the last 18 years.
Many refugees are forced to pay taxes on their own homes by greedy Landowners and chiefs.
Though UNHCR has its name and banners over the camp with inscriptions such as “all UNHCR services are free”, refugees continue to pay for healthcare at the clinic and for shelter.
Many refugees who cannot afford the almost $50 charged them resort to over-the-counter treatment which often leads to health complications and fatalities.
On sanitation, although there are many latrines in the camp, each refugee wanting to attend to nature needs to pay 100 cedis, which is costly for many who can’t afford because they also need to look and pay for water and food.
Consequently, many refugees are victims of threats and attacks in the bushes and what is also called the “Gulf”(open space where they go to attend nature which is free) but requires distant walking and it’s risky.
Latrines and bathrooms were meant to be managed by refugees they(refugees), however, they have been taken over by Ghanaians, thereby limiting the potential employment of many refugees in the camp.
Education is a basic right to all refugee children in primary schools under domestic law. Not only have primary students been paying school fees, they have also been exempted from school feeding programs provided to all primary students in Ghana.
Due to lack of income from refugee parents, hundreds of children are unable to acquire basic education in the refugee camp.
Most alarming however, is the blatant lack of capacity building measures by UNHCR and the Christian Council of Ghana (a government agency responsible for refugee education).
Their programs supposed to equip refugees with skills needed for self-reliance and economic development. However, the limited training programs in the refugee camp lack resources, materials and internship programs.
Readers, how can Ghanaians expect the refugees to integrate into their society when very little has been done to offer them employment and skill development? When Ghanaians only pretend to like people or Liberians through their lips and not from their hearts?
What has happened to the so-called free enterprise market system that Ghana so proudly boasts about?
When refugee women who are forced to become the bread-winners of their various families in the camp are kicked out of their own Buduburam market by Ghanaian women, who claim “this is my country, get the hell out”, how is s refugee woman to make a living and support her family?
Although Ghana appears to be a stable and peaceful country in West Africa, the same cannot be said for the life of Liberian refugees in the camp. Because of the last 10 years, as already mentioned, refugees have been direct victims of serious attacks by unknown persons since 2000 when UNHCR withdrew all support for Liberian refugees in Ghana.
When Liberian refugees are continuing to experience abuse, intimidation and murder from many Ghanaians, does this not clearly indicate the xenophobia of Ghanaians to accept the Liberian refugees into their society?
Is it not apparent to you readers and the government of Ghana that these events make it obvious that Ghanaians are unwilling to co-exist with the Liberian refugees in the so-called integration process?
All forms of violence breach the very fundamental human rights covenants enshrined in the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Liberian refugees in Buduburam, Ghana have the right to equal protection under the law. Why are they not being protected? Anyone abusing others’ rights is acting against the law. Therefore I called on the authorities of the Western World and International Organizations to ensure that the law is respected because women’s and refugees’ rights are human rights.

1 comment:

airemay said...

I volunteered at Refuge Baptist Primary school in the fall, and have been searching the internet for more information about recent events on the camp. I am really worried about my friends and the students I worked with!

Your comments are spot-on. A first grader at my school was killed while crossing the street while walking with family to the bank. Watching the students and teacher grieve was heartbreaking. I heard about the stabbing incident too. There was no current on the camp for several months! It just went back on in December, I believe. Refuge Baptist's midday meal program had to be stopped because they lost their funding from the States. I don't think that people truly understand the situation that Liberia is in right now. It cannot support its current population well enough for refugees to even consider coming back with less than $1000! I took my Ghanaian university peers to Refuge Baptist (I was studying at Legon) and a lot of them commented on what a positive step this was for Ghanaian/Liberian relations. Liberians have been wrongfully portrayed by the Ghanaian media for too long.