Liberian Refugees in Ghana Deported

From the International Herald Tribune, the only media who deemed news worthy this AP wire from Monrovia:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

MONROVIA, Liberia: Thirty Liberian refugees expelled from Ghana were expected home on Sunday amid disagreement between the two countries about the best way to deal with thousands of refugees, government officials said.

Liberia’s Information Minister Laurence Bropleh said in a radio broadcast Saturday that the “first batch” of nine women and 21 men would be met off the plane by senior officials and given temporary housing.

More than 40,000 Liberian refugees are still in Ghana, where they fled during the nation’s violent civil war that began in 1989. Hundreds were reportedly rounded up last week by Ghanaian security forces in a refugee camp an hour’s drive outside Accra, Ghana’s capital.

The refugees, mainly women, had reportedly been staging a sit-in to protest the relief package the U.N. refugee agency was offering them to return home.

The two countries have held talks for several months about how best to deal with the refugee issue and a four-man Liberian team arrived in Ghana Saturday to try to resolve the dispute.

Liberia’s civil war ended five years ago, when warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor agreed to go into exile. Since then, refugees in Ghana, as well as in Guinea and Ivory Coast have been slowly returning.

Bropleh said Ghana’s government had informed them the repatriation was “due to the continued breach of Ghana’s public order laws” by some refugees.

“The government of Liberia wishes to assure our citizens being returned and the general public that everything is being done to provide adequate care and support for our affected citizens, as well as continued dialogue with the Ghanaian government so as to amicably resolve this crisis,” Bropleh said.

What’s amazing is that there is NO word of the gross human and refugee rights abuses going on in Ghana, that there is no mention of the 500 women and children still being detained, that there is no word on the lack of due process for these individuals… The Ghanaian government is manipulating the media, trying to justify their wrong doing by saying things like “there was a total break down of law and order”, and that the refugees were threatening public order… Give me a break.

Seriously. Give me a break.

How can one construe a peaceful protest by refugee women as a breach of Ghana’s public order law? One might refer to the Public Order Act of 1994, which forbids large gatherings of people unless the government has been notified (hello democracy!). In any case, the protest was taking place within the confines of the refugee settlement, and in spite of causing disruption in the daily life of the community as schools were shut down and the market place slowed to a trickle, it remained orderly and peaceful.

Moreover, the grievances put forward by the refugees were mostly targeted at the UNHCR and the international community at large, asking them for greater support in repatriation packages – albeit, the women’s group had a set of impractical, unrealistic demands – but shouldn’t we commend them for the way in which they conducted themselves? The arrest and detention of hundreds of women and children is simply sickening – Ghanaian law does not allow detention to last more than 48 hours without a mandate to do so. And as the brilliant lawyer who’s been advocating on the side of the refugees has pointed out, this is a matter for the courts to settle, not the Interior Minister of Ghana. And let’s not even mention the complete inaction of the UNHCR, which, I’ve decided I have completely lost faith in.

I’m not well-connected – I don’t know any high powered politicians, media figures or celebrities. That’s a shame for the Liberian refugees. It seems, these days, that to get the world’s attention on the plight of the underprivileged, you need to be listed in Fortune 100, or, alternatively, be voted as one of People magazine 50 hottest women of the year.

As C. says, “let’s continue fighting the Good fight”

Will Justice Prevail?

Buduburam camp.

I am exhausted.

After one week of intense campaigning, I feel like our little coalition is being met by brick walls and glass ceilings, no matter who we turn to.

I have to say that I am truly disappointed by the lack of interest in this situation demonstrated by the authorities and the media – a few grassroots media organizations have been following the situation closely, but what we’ve read in the news so far mostly misrepresents the situation – of course, when the dominating discourse is that of the authorities it becomes the legitimate Truth, and the voice of the forgotten is suppressed, or simply ignored.

I am absolutely heart broken by the current state of affairs – following today’s police raid on the camp, and ensuing beatings, arrests, and imminent deportation of innocent refugees, I am honestly considering changing the name of my blog to “Meanderings of a Young Deluded Idealist”

How is it possible that these people’s rights are being so blatantly trampled upon, and that no one shows a sign of caring? Where are the Angelina Jolies of this world? I suppose painting Easter eggs with their rainbow family, while innocents’ rights are being violated, as I write this.

I’ve contacted media organizations, press agencies, embassies, international organizations, and pulled every string I could think of – but, obviously, to no avail.

Here is our petition, calling for the safeguarding of the rights of refugees in Ghana – I don’t know if this will effect change in any way shape or form, but the least we can do is try.

Action Required

Following the recent events, a group of NGOs and individuals who work and have worked in the Buduburam refugee settlement have come together to call on the international community to insure that the rights of all refugees in Ghana are upheld.

We are gravely concerned for the fate of the 600 detained refugee women and children, who are facing imminent deportation – we humbly ask for your support in order to press authorities to respect the rights of refugees.

We will pass it on to relevant authorities very shortly.

Thank you for your support.

… and the misinformation continues

For a great background piece on the women’s protest in Buduburam, go here – the writer actually took the time to interview community leaders, and the result is a fair, balanced piece on the original grievances put forward by the women, as well as the community reactions to it.

Who knows what the government of Liberia’s real position is on this issue? According to this article, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, is strongly condemning the unruly behavior of certain refugees. In this report, however, Sirleaf makes a passionate appeal to her Ghanaian counterpart and is “about to storm Accra for an engagement with Ghanaian authorities.”

Here, you have the reaction of the opposition party in Liberia, headed by George Weah, which seems to confirm the first version – that Sirleaf is slamming the attitude of refugees.

Interestingly, the VOA article claims this:

Acarous Gray [national assistant secretary general for the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC)] said if the Liberian government, as it has said repeatedly, wants Liberians in the Diaspora to return home and contribute to the development of the country then it must give those returning incentives. He called on President Sirleaf to send a fact-finding mission to Ghana.

But here, we have this:

The female Liberian President, who is about to storm Accra for an engagement with Ghanaian authorities, is asking that her compatriots are allowed to stay in the country because as she put it, resources are not enough to contain the new arrivals.

So, again, which one’s right? I already highlighted this blatant contradiction in a previous post. Can you, or can’t you, President Sirleaf, truly handle the arrival of an additional 40,000 refugees – homeless, jobless, resourceless refugees?

Continuing to monitor the situation…