Consultative meeting on Burkinabe refugees takes place
Some of the refugees in one of the camps

Consultative meeting on Burkinabe refugees takes place

Stakeholders handling issues of asylum seekers have held a consultative dialogue aimed at developing an effective action plan to deal with the influx of Burkinabes seeking asylum in the country.

Over the past few weeks, more than 4,000 Burkinabes have arrived in the country, mostly in border towns in the Upper East Region, fleeing for their safety following Jihadist attacks in their country.

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Stakeholders

The stakeholders at the meeting in Accra yesterday discussed strategic plans to put in place, with adequate human and financial resources as well as the logistics to deal with the challenges of reception, registration, health screening and the provision of food and shelter for the refugees.

Participants in the meeting included high-level representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Refugee Board (GRB), the Ghana Immigration Service, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, regional ministers of the locations affected.

Currently, the Refugee Board has registered about 1,045 Burkinabes as asylum seekers in the country but are yet to be given refugee status.

They will remain asylum seekers until they go through the process to be recognised as refugees as a result of security reasons.

In a speech read on his behalf to open the event, the Minister for the Interior, Ambrose Dery, stated that the consultative dialogue was timely due to the increasing reports of attacks and other military actions in the southern part of Burkina Faso that had exacerbated the influx of Burkinabes into Ghana. 

He said it was important for the country to be alert while receiving the refugees as movement of asylum seekers worldwide had its attendant security risks. 

"More so, given the situation we have in the Upper East and Upper West regions of our beloved country, it is of utmost importance that we continue to be conscious of the risks that exist in the areas hosting Burkinabes.

“We must ensure at all cost that extremists do not infiltrate the asylum system and pose a threat to our national security," the Interior Minister stated.   

The inter-relationships that existed between residents of the host areas, the minister said, had resulted in fluid movements across the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso. 

"Even at a time when there have been attacks on civilian populations in Burkina Faso, they continue to travel in both directions, a situation which has resulted in a reported significant reduction in the persons who have remained in Ghanaian territory," he indicated.

Mr Dery said true to the proverbial Ghanaian hospitality, the host communities in the Upper East and Upper West regions had given up part of their already scarce resources to ensure that the visitors lived comfortably.

The Interior Minister urged the Refugee Board and the UN Refugee Agency to ensure that appropriate interventions were made for the Burkinabes to ameliorate the situation of their Ghanaian hosts. 

"I am confident that adequate attention will be paid to all host communities in order to maintain harmony between the two groups of people," Mr Dery said. 
 
Situation 

The Country Representative of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Esther Kiragu, disclosed that the High Commission last week elevated the Burkina Faso situation into level one emergency to amplify the need for better preparedness, given the escalating security situation there.

She said the situation in Burkina Faso was escalating and that not only had the attacks from non-state armed actors increased, but those that were providing aid were no longer able to gain access to them. 

The current arrivals, Ms Kiragu said, held on as long as they could in Internally Displaced Person (IDP)-like situations but now had no choice but to flee to safety into Ghana.

"In terms of statistics, we have almost 1.88 million people in IDP camps and 74,500 people who had fled across the borders into neighbouring countries to seek asylum," she said.
Ghana, the UNHCR Country Representative said, must prepare itself to receive more asylum seekers as experience in UNHCR had taught them that when people start fleeing from IDP camps across International borders, they had to expect more because that was a sign of a deteriorating security situation at where they were coming from.

"We need to be ready to receive and manage this situation as the numbers are likely to increase,” Ms Kiragu said.

She commended the country for having a long tradition of hosting refugees and being a shining light with a progressive asylum system that enabled refugees in the country to contribute to the local economy.

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"We have just closed the Ivorian situation after 10 years in exile. It was the same for Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. They came, sought asylum and finally returned in safety and dignity,” the Country Representative of UNHCR indicated.

Board

The Executive Director of GRB, Tetteh Padi, said the Burkinabe asylum seekers were largely being housed by Ghanaians in the communities they were located in the Upper East and Upper West regions.

"There have been few reports of some Burkinabe asylum seekers wanting to move south. Some of them were restrained and asked to stay in the Upper regions but a significant number of them have returned to Burkina Faso," he stated. 

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