The two former Guantanamo Bay detainees in Ghana will continue to stay in the country, although the two-year agreement with the United States government covering their presence in Ghana has expired, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, has said.
Making a statement in Parliament on Wednesday, Ms Botchway said the two — Saleh Al-Dhuby and Mohammed Bin Atef — had been given refugee status and were, therefore, the responsibility of the Ghana government.
She said the two were issued with a decision letter on July 21, 2016 recognising their status as refugees, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951, the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees and provisions of the Refugee Law, 1992 (PNDCL 305D) of Ghana.
“From January 2016, the two ex-detainees, now with their families, have been living here and so far are reported to be of good behaviour,” Ms Botchway added.
She said the bilateral cooperation concerning the resettlement of the two came to an end on January 6, 2018 but indicated that no exit arrangements were originally discussed between the two governments to end the bilateral arrangements at the time of negotiation.
“The US has also been clear in our discussions with it that per the agreement, returning them to the US is not an option open for discussion or negotiation. This means that all obligations relating to the two subjects have now become the responsibility of Ghana,” she said.
“While US financial support and obligation in respect of the agreement that brought the two former detainees, on the one hand, ended following its expiration, the government of Ghana, on the other, is to take measures to facilitate the integration of the two into the Ghanaian society,” Ms Botchway added.
The statement from the minister triggered a heated debate in the House, with the Minority challenging the government to deport the ex-detainees, as it had maintained while it was in opposition.
The Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, demanded of the government not to pretend there was no exit plan for the ex-detainees.
However, the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, accused the Minority of inconsistency and asked them to rather back the decision to keep the ex-detainees in Ghana and not demand their deportation.
He said since the previous administration accepted the two men into the country on compassionate grounds, the least the Minority could do was to support their status as refugees.
The government, in January 2016, accepted the men into the country for a period of two years, despite popular opposition from groups such as OccupyGhana and the then opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) who demanded their return, but others, including the Office of the National Chief Imam, reiterated the need to accept them on compassionate grounds.
As of January 7, 2016, the two had already arrived in Ghana and were housed at an undisclosed location in Accra.
Unsatisfied with the arrival of the two ex-detainees, two private Ghanaian citizens — Mrs Margaret Banful and Mr Henry Nana Boakye — instituted a legal action, seeking a declaration from the court to the effect that the agreement to transfer the men to Ghana required ratification by an Act of Parliament.
The Supreme Court, on June 22, 2017, ruled that the agreement that allowed the men into the country was in violation of Article 75 of the 1992 Constitution, arguing that the agreement could only become valid when ratified by Parliament.
Consequently, Parliament, on August 1, 2017, ratified the agreement between the previous government and the US that led to the admission of the two ex-detainees into the country.