The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged Ghana to cease with any further forcible removals after the West African nation deported 16 Liberians - 13 of whom had registered as refugees with the agency - last weekend. "We regret the deportation of this group of refugees and hope that our ongoing negotiations with the Ghanaian authorities will help resolve the situation of the refugees still in detention," said UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis.
The Liberians were deported following a sit-in demonstration which started on 19 February at the Buduburam refugee settlement 35 kilometres west of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. They were demanding resettlement in third countries or, if they were to be returned to Liberia, a tenfold increase in their return grant to $1,000. "Despite our extensive efforts to promote and convince the demonstrators to express themselves within the confines of Ghanaian law, the group engaged in increasingly threatening and disruptive action," Ms. Pagonis noted.
Over 600 demonstrators were arrested on 17 March, and on the evening of 21 March, UNHCR negotiated the release of 90 of the most vulnerable people, including separated children and pregnant women.
However, the following day, UNHCR learned that an additional 70 Liberians from the Buduburam settlement had been arrested. The agency's request for access to that group was still pending when it found out that 16 of them - including the 10 male and three female refugees - had been deported to Liberia early in the morning on 23 March. The five-week demonstration ended yesterday.
"We are continuing to try and persuade the refugee community to use existing channels to address their issues as well as reminding them of their obligation to obey the laws and regulations of their country of asylum," the UNHCR spokesperson said. Most of the nearly 27,000 Liberians officially registered as refugees in Ghana live in Buduburam camp.
Last June, UNHCR ended a two-and-a-half year programme that helped 105,000 Liberians who had fled violence during the country's brutal 15-year civil war to repatriate from several West African countries.