New Wave

262 migrants from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh arrived aboard a rickety fishing boat in Malta this morning. Media reports claim that the migrants attempted to “disperse and hide after landing in the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, but were surrounded by police and soldiers”. Funny, because it doesn’t seem like anyone is dispersing and hiding – Watch the video here.

Most of these individuals will be repatriated, seeing as they come from countries which are not eligible for humanitarian status and cannot avail themselves of refugee or asylum seeking status.

Again… This shows the obvious need to reconsider how we handle population movements. People do not put themselves through such harrowing experiences without a good reason to do so. The answer isn’t an “open door” policy either – but an adequate policy mix, which combines elements of border protection and greater coordination with countries of origin with policies that promote the creation of opportunities in said countries.

Seems likely..

Wanted: Paradigm Shift

The policy choices and the decisions made in terms of dealing with the return of refugees are today at odds with the reality of these people’s lives.

MS shared this article, which discusses the return of IDPs in Kenya.

One phrase strikes me as “universally” applicable to refugees and IDPs who are considering return:

“Why are they ignoring our sentiments and resorting to forcing resolutions down our throats? We are the victims and our views have to be considered,” said an angry woman.

Save the date, World Refugee Day is June 20th.

Back in Budu

Been back in the Buduburam settlement for a little over a week now, and it seems clear that we arrived just as tensions were easing between the different parties. While the overt crisis seems to be under control now, there are still many, many unresolved issues at a number of different levels. The refugee community receives only limited, fragmented information concerning their future and the decisions made on their behalf, which leads to the elaboration of many rumors and theories that only contribute to increasing anxiety and uncertainty.

The UNHCR is essentially nowhere to be seen, found or heard – at least, not in the field. Voluntary repatriation has been reopened for registered refugees (it had been closed in August 2007), but to all the unregistered refugees living in Buduburam, going “home” seems like an almost unsurmountable hurdle… For those who can be repatriated, they are all very worried about leaving with only 20kg of belongings and $100 – imagine if you had to rebuild your life (again) with only this, and in extremely difficult conditions (Liberia, while it is in the process of post-conflict reconstruction, still faces enormous challenges)

I’m going to the court hearing of the remaining 22 women (including 6 children aged between 4 and 11) who are in custody of Immigration Services on Monday. Since internet access is – at best – frustrating in Buduburam, I will probably update then….

… 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…

Ellen

Misinformation

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.