I’ve been browsing the web for updates concerning the situation in Buduburam, and I’ve come across some extremely misleading news stories – not only do they report the situation in a skewed, incomplete manner, but there are a lot of completely wrong facts, which is very disturbing.

BBC News has a report on this ongoing story, entitled “Naked Liberians to be Sent Home“, claiming that

A group of Liberian women refugees who have held naked protests by the roadside are to be deported from Ghana, a minister has told the BBC […]Stripping naked is a traditional form of protest amongst poor and powerless women in Africa.

Well, I don’t know if it’s a traditional form of protest, but it certainly never happened in Buduburam! Trust me on this, the Liberian women of Buduburam would never do this – they are a very proud group, and I know for a fact that no one ever stripped naked. How dare the BBC entitle its article that way? How demeaning for the Liberians!

In this VOA article, the number of protesters is said to have been “about two thousand”, which is more than double what’s been said in most other news sources, as well as from the eye witness accounts I’ve heard. What’s the point? Kwesi Ofori, a public relations officer for the Ghana national police said

“Aside that, the demonstration degenerated into lawlessness and chaos. “

Not true either – it disrupted life on camp because schools and the market shut down, but to call it lawlessness and chaos is completely off base.

I’m extremely shocked that the Ghanaian perspective and point of view has emerged has the “official” story – no one seems to be taking a second to check their facts. What is the UNHCR doing? Why are they not protecting this group? I want to see the UNHCR publicly standing by the refugees, protecting their rights – that is its purpose, after all!

Only one article mentions this “The Ghana Refugee Board said it is yet to take a decision on what to do with Liberian refugees who remain in Ghana on the expiration of the 30 June deadline.
” – at this point, Liberian refugees will become illegal immigrants. What will happen to these thousands of families? In light of recent events, I imagine it’s completely possible they will be deported by the Ghanaian authorities…. This is something I cannot even fathom.

Some Burundian refugees stayed in Tanzania for 30+ years – even though their country was at peace, there was a recognition that the lack of violent conflict in a given country does not mean peace, does not mean that a normal life is possible (see these posts to read about the current conditions in Liberia)

The UNHCR representative to Burundi, Bo Schack, said most of the returnees were presumed to have reached economic self-sufficiency in Tanzania and would not automatically benefit from aid.
“The only assistance retained is the cash grant of 50,000 FBU [US$45],” he explained. “The other aspects of assistance, especially food and non-food items, will be distributed to identified vulnerable persons.”

Schack, however, explained that an assessment would be conducted and the policy could be changed if necessary. “We do not want to repatriate persons in a situation of self-sufficiency in Tanzania to make them vulnerable in Burundi,” he added.

In the meantime, UNHCR would negotiate with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to include some of the returnees among its food beneficiaries. This would provide the returnees with food packages for six months.

The returnees – of whom the first wave fled Burundi in 1972 – have been living in Ulyankulu in Tabora region, at Mishamo and Katumba in Rukwa, where they stopped receiving assistance in 1985.

Their return follows a decision by Tanzania to close the three settlements by the end of 2008. The 218,000 Burundian refugees were given the option to be repatriated or seek Tanzanian citizenship. (full story here)

There are other ways of dealing with this – giving the refugees the time and space (physical and socio-political-economic) to become self-sufficient before sending them home. Or giving them the possibility of receiving Ghanaian citizenship, or even permanent residency…. I am sure that not ALL the people in Buduburam want to go back to Liberia.

Dialogue between the refugees and the authorities is vital to resolve this situation – meanwhile, let’s be wary of what the media puts forward.

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