The purpose of this article is to inform the general public about measures in place for providing sustained support to refugees and asylum seekers in Ghana.
This endeavour has become necessary in the light of the recent unfortunate episode of Sudanese refugees encamping outside the premises of the UNHCR-Ghana office over a period of time to air their concerns, leading to their removal by the police; the associated misleading information on the degree of support provided to refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
Without mincing words, becoming a refugee is not by choice.
It is a difficult decision to make, and for many refugees, the choice is between the horrific or something worse.
It is, therefore, important that refugees are offered the necessary support to be able to get back on their feet and start life afresh, as is most often the case.
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Genesis refugee phenomenon
As an “oasis of peace” in the West African sub-region which recently experienced a series of political turbulence, Ghana has been and remains the preferred choice of destination for people displaced by internal conflicts and civil unrests in the sub-region and beyond.
Persons seeking asylum in Ghana are assured of protection by the State and its agencies under the International Refugee Convention and affiliated mandates. The country has, therefore, experienced influxes from at least three countries in the sub-region as a result of generalised violence.
In the 1990s, over 50,000 Liberians sought refuge in Ghana during the Liberian civil war. More recently, Ghana received over 20,000 Ivorians fuelled by the Ivorian political crisis of 2011.
Togolese and Sierra Leoneans have also benefitted from prima facie refugee status in Ghana throughout the years.
There are presently three camps which host refugees from Cote d’Ivoire: Ampain Camp in the Western Region, Egyeikrom Camp in the Central Region and Fetentaa Camp in the Brong-Ahafo Region, and one mixed population camp at Krisan in the Western Region.
Currently, the country hosts refugees from about 38 different countries across the world with the total number of refugees and asylum seekers registered numbering approximately 13,300.
Operational policy framework
A distinctive feature of the operational policy framework is that privileges available to all citizens in terms of a supportive enabling environment and access to essential services are extended to all asylum seekers and refugees in the country.
Refugees have a choice of residential location (where to live), free movement, permit for employment and establishing means of livelihood, assistance to open bank accounts and possess travel documents.
Ghana ensures that all asylum seekers and refugees have access to services by integrating and mainstreaming the provisions and delivery of such services into the national service systems.
At the camp level, refugees have been given plots of land and related assistance to undertake farming activities involving planting of maize, cassava and vegetables.
Some are engaged in agro-processing of coconut and palm oil; poultry and mushroom production, fishing, soap and charcoal production.
Entrepreneurship training is provided to engage in apprenticeship and vocational certification programmes.
The vulnerable are given cash grants to engage in petty trading. Services in the camps are integrated into the national and municipal service delivery systems. Security is provided by the Ghana Police Service.
Utilities including water, electricity and sanitation services are provided by the municipal and district service providers.
Camp schools are integrated into the national education service, and children are enrolled in the school feeding programme financed by the government.
Clinics on refugee camps are managed by officials of the Ghana Health Service and permission granted to enrol in the National Health Insurance Scheme to have access to primary health care.
Certainly, this policy and operational framework is progressive and in line with the recent Compact on Refugees passed by the UN General Assembly recently.
It is precisely the fact that there will never be enough resources to meet every need and the imperative of empowering refugees to be self-sufficient that informed the new Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).
This is to ensure, in line with Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, that refugees are not left behind but are part and parcel of the national and local development plans.
UNHCR works closely with the UN Country Team to deliver as one in this regard.
The Sudanese refugees
On Thursday, January 10, 2019, a group of Sudanese refugees who had pitched camp at the entrance of the UNHCR offices in Accra had to be removed by the police and taken back to the Krisan refugee camp in the Western Region.
The refugees, who were only a fraction of Sudanese refugees in Ghana, had been picketing at the premises since November 27, 2018.
It is important to note that this particular group of refugees arrived in Ghana in 2004.
The majority from this group live in the Krisan Camp in the Western Region.
However, given that refugees in Ghana have freedom of movement and the right to work, some prefer to settle in urban areas, including Accra, in search of livelihood opportunities.
The Sudanese refugees submitted a petition which included some of their concerns relating to health, education, shelter, livelihoods and resettlement.
UNHCR Ghana received the petition and responded in detail to each individual issue in extensive counselling sessions.
Additionally, UNHCR and the GRB officials met with both the leadership, as well as the whole group in several lengthy meetings where their concerns were discussed at length.
Despite long and painstaking interviews with the individuals in the group and the comprehensive responses to each of their issues, the refugees adamantly refused to go back to Krisan or leave the entrance of the UNHCR office in Accra to return to their regular places of abode, where they would receive further support and counselling.
The office had been particularly concerned about the children and pregnant mothers amongst them and the insanitary conditions while outside the UNHCR offices, as well as the risk of accidents with the children playing along the road.
UNHCR in collaboration with the GRB, other relevant arms of government and other partners will continue to work together to protect and assist all refugees in Ghana including fundraising and outreach to other non-traditional partners including the private sector and business community to augment available support.
This is a joint article by the Ghana Refugee Board & UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency Representation in Ghana