Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Deportation of Protesting Liberian Refugees

With reports of hundreds of women being arrested for a naked protest outside of the Buduburam refugee settlement, with imminent deportations to follow, Ghana is demonstrating how it intends to deal with their Liberian refugee 'problem'.

Liberian refugees have been living in Ghana since 1990, fleeing a terrible war and seeking refuge within their peaceful neighbour. 35,000 people currently live in Buduburam, one of two refugee settlements in Ghana. The UNHCR flag flies over the camp, but most of the residents of the settlement do not recieve food, water or basic medical care.

The settlement is a micro-economy in and of itself, sustained by the little money remitted to residents from family members who live overseas and small businesses created in a tiny marketplace that serves the camp. Many refugees leave the camp in order to find work, but are often extremely poorly paid for the most difficult of hard labour. They are in essense a disposable workforce.

Official voluntary repatriation back to Liberia ended in June of last year. Of the original estimated 50,000 refugees living on the camp, 35,000 still remain with the hopes that they will be resettled to the West for a better life. Many of these residents fear the danger of reprisals upon returning to Liberia and so will not accept a return to their former home.

The women, who are willing to go back to Liberia, were staging a protest over the UNHCR's offer of $100 per refugee to start a new life in Liberia: a country that has an unemployment rate estimated at 80%. The women argue that the small amount of money offered is not enough to create a new life in their former home. Liberia currently does not rank on the Human Development Index, due to lack of data. It can be suggested that along with neighbouring Sierra Leone, Liberia is the most difficult place to live on earth.

Chairman Sambola of the Refugee Council at Buduburam camp said in an earlier interview that the Ghana Refugee Board has a plan for the camp only until the end of 2009. Beyond this, there are no official plans for the camp or its thousands of residents.

The move to deport these women, though Ghana denies it is forced repatriation, might be the first step in removing all Liberian refugees from the country. The UNHCR has yet to make comment on the situation, though have said in the past that the Ghana Refugee Board are those with the ulitmate decision making powers.

With the issue now coming to a head, the question remains how will Ghana deal with these people displaced by war? Has the patience of the Ghana Refugee Board run out after 18 years? Will the women protesting be given a reprieve or will we start seeing more forced repatriation?

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