Today, at about 4am, Ghanaian police armed with tear gas and machine guns descended upon the Buduburam refugee settlement to arrest some of the women who have been peacefully protesting for the better part of the last month.
Police in Accra on Monday morning pounced on protesting Liberian women at the Buduburam Camp in the Central Region and arrested hundreds of them.
The Liberian nationals have been protesting for a couple of weeks now against government’s plan to reintegrate them into the Ghanaian society after more than 18 years of asylum in the country. (more here)
According to Jess Leombruno, our field coordinator, the arrests were more or less peaceful – 5 bus loads of women were taken away (for her perspective from the field, go here)
M.S. asked me how I feel about this, and what kind of support we can lend…. Honestly, I feel very powerless – I’m truly disconcerted by the situation, as are the other people connected to Buduburam I have spoken with…. I’m going to be there with Celina and Valentina in 2 weeks, and I really can’t wait to be there to better understand how things are playing out, and if anything can be done…..My feeling is that the UNHCR should really be more active in this situation.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this protest is in breach of Ghanaian law – and the women, who have been openly refusing local integration, have offended the Ghanaian authorities, as well as the public. As a result, passions are running high on both sides – here is a statement by Ghana’s Interior Minister, Mr. Kwamena Bartels:
“Ghana was good enough for them when there was war in Liberia but Ghana is not good enough for them now. This shows their crass ingratitude to a country that has protected them, fed them and given their children free education.”
Ummm… No?! It’s a bit frightenting to hear that they have received food and free education from Ghana – the only food distribution occurs through the WFP, and it reaches a very limited number of people, those considered “vulnerable”. And Liberian children have never been to attend free primary school in Ghana. In any case, sending armed men with machine guns and tear gas seems a really inappropriate response – Ghana is just “upping the ante”, and it seems very premature to resort to this type of method while only women, elderly people and children are protesting. Now, messages are pouring in from Buduburam mentioning that Liberian refugees are nervous, and understandably so.
As I write this, I just read that the arrested women are going to be stripped of their refugee status and sent back to Liberia – which promises to aggravate tensions between the groups. The UNHCR needs to step in at this point and, at the very least, be a more active mediator!
But clearly, they are not prepared to do so, almost clearly siding with the Ghanaian authorities – for instance, a meeting was held between the UNHCR, the refugees and the Ghana Refugee Board friday – the UNHCR offered $100/person for repatriation, but no compromise was reached. UNHCR Representative in Ghana, Ms. Aida Haile Mariam said that “UNHCR believes that many have been coerced, manipulated, threatened and intimidated to join the sit-in protest”. Not really advocating on the side of the refugees, it seems…
Here is the UNHCR’s description of its own mandate:
[…]The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees[…]
Well, at this very moment, there are tens of thousands of refugees who need their rights and well-being safeguarded, and no indivial or groups can really weigh in on this issue the way the UNHCR could – I highly recommend this institution takes its responsibility seriously in this time of crisis.