When the Great White Warlord, George Bush, president of the USA decided to visit some African countries, including Ghana, in Mid-February 2008, little did people know that his visit would visit mayhem on the Liberian refugees sojourning at the Buduburam Camp near Kasoa in the Central Region, and caused our dear land points in our international image.
But like a bad comet, Bush seems to be trailed by bad vibes wherever he goes. The ghosts of the several thousand of the innocent and hapless victims of his murderous rage must certainly be haunting him. How on earth this monster can keep on smiling and sleeping at night is beyond the comprehension of yours truly. Maybe that’s why I am not a psychologist; those types of things are certainly beyond me.
George Bush came, wined and dined with the movers and shakers of power in our land, and he left after making the same nonsensical noises Western leaders make whenever they visit Africa. The first inkling of trouble was when there were conflicts about the report that he had pledged some millions to fight diseases in Ghana, Some said that they were new monies, while others were vociferous that it was old, re-cycled statements. Whatever…
The Liberian FRONTPAGE, ONLINE EDITION of 03/20/08 screamed: “Liberian Women, Children Claim Abduction, Mistreatment in Ghana”
The Public Agenda (Liberian) which claims to be Liberia’s oldest newspaper, wailed: “Humiliated Abroad, Denounced At Home...” The story continues: “Fate Of Ghana-based Liberian Refugees Sealed, Govt. Extols Ghana ,Chides “Protesting Exiles”. The story continues: “Over 800 Liberian refugees, predominantly women and children, kissed dusts under the boots and teargases of stampeding Ghanaian security, before being commandeered to some unknown prison center. The action of the Ghanaians received cheers from the Government of Liberia which, in a statement, condemned the Liberian protesting refugees calling their action “unlawful” and a “disrespect” of Ghanaian laws.”
A statement released by 26 prominent inhabitants of the Buduburam camp has this to say: “The history of peaceful dialogue between Liberian Refugee Women and the UNHCR, initiated few weeks ago took a dramatic reversal when over six hundred women, the old, young and even the disabled were abducted on 17th March, 2008.”
OSHAKA SAMUEL JAIDAH, OSLO, NORWAY writing in the BBC ‘Have your say’ says: “When I was in the Ivory Coast, many Liberian refugees living there thought Ghana was the best country for them because it is an English speaking country. But the true is that Ghanaians don’t welcome foreigners in their country unless you are rich. I live in the Ivory Coast for 14 years as a refugee before travelling to Norway. We marched in the Ivory Coast in 2003 very brutally and no one was arrested but we were rather given homes by the Ivorian government. Ghanaians should leave the Liberians in peace.”
Writing in the same forum, one AKPAN, Kent, UK/Nigeria writes: “I thought this sort of conduct is precisely what the so-called African Union was supposed to prevent. Nigeria expelled Ghanaians in the 80's, and other countries have followed suit ever since. Why, then, did our rulers proclaim Article 12(5) of the African Human Rights Charter which states: "The mass expulsion of non-nationals shall be prohibited..."? And some say we're not entitled to be deeply cynical about every one of our rulers' antics - including the notion of "African Unity."
Another Liberian Frontpage headline shouts: “Ghana- Liberia's Repatriation Headache: Did Govts, U.N. Leave Women Out to Dry?”
A story authored by Rodney D. Sieh, ( rsieh@FrontPageAfrica.com) says in part: “It is appalling that the indignity and inhumanity with which the abductees were treated, is being consummated by torture and denial of food, safe drinking water and other essentials for living.”
Dippy Ploh , wrote in Myjoyonline (Ghana) on 3/22/2008 10:06:41 AM “Our Ghanaian Brothers & Sisters have now forgotten that during the turmoil of 60s, 70s, & 80s in Ghana, Liberia hosted approx 500,000 Ghanaians and we still host over 100,000 right now. During those trying times when Ghanaians sought refuge, our population was 2million. Do the math. That means 25% of our population were refugees. We have managed for 30yrs with the exception of the war when Ghanaians AND Liberians were subjected to such a brutal war. Now we are 27,000 here. Maximum was 50,000 against a 20 Million population for 18yrs and already we are being shown the door. We are brothers and we should not forget this.
The information being disseminated is that the govt has been feeding, medicating, & housing the Liberians is just wrong. Certain people are trying to make the Ghanaians and Liberians hate each other. Though Liberians haven’t been taken care of 100% we remain grateful as if it has been so. But the picture is being painted wrongly.
In Liberia, $15,000 is being given to a Sierra Leonean refugee family by UNHCR and here we have been given $5 to settle back home since the repatriation process started. It was until many efforts to draw the attention of the UNHCR and NADMO that these women decided to protest peacefully. They even have permission from authorities to do so which is not being revealed so. Midway through the protest, the $5 was stepped up to $100 and Integration in Ghana becomes $1,500. I hope the monies meant for repatriation hasn’t been mishandled and now the UNHCR & NADMO are trying to sic the govt on the refugees for voicing their plight. I just hope not!
These women are not ungrateful criminal lunatics as is being painted. Put yourself in their shoes, what would YOU do differently? Now men are being carted away in the middle of the night from house to house. The same men who never involved themselves throughout. Please look into this before this thing generates into something else.”
Another (apparently) Liberian online commentator wrote: “The history of peaceful dialogue between Liberian Refugee Women and the UNHCR, initiated few weeks ago took a dramatic reversal when over six hundred women, the old, young and even the disabled were abducted on 17th March, 2008.
The peaceful women and children were awakened from their sleep to the shock of heavy presence of Police (several hundreds with military trucks) armed with sophisticated weapons and armor tanks apparently in combat-readiness. The women and children were abducted and forced into waiting vehicles between four and six in the morning only in a manner characteristic of the Nazi style, and dumped in a forest of Ghana typical of a Neo-Nazi Concentration Camp.
Ladies and Gentlemen, and members of the International Community, we the Liberian refugees in Ghana wish to declare in unequivocal terms our commitment to the laws of Ghana, and willingness to further dialogue on our plight. We are taken aback by attempts by Honorable Kwamena Bartels to over politicize what is in the domain of a humanitarian concern. The use of state machinery to perpetrate violence is only an expression of the personal xenophobic tendencies of Mr. Bartels, and this is a negation of the general goodwill of the Government and People of Ghana.”
A Liberian trying to put things into perspective has this to say (with the entire wart and all):
Please let me take this opportunity to present a clear scenario of the factors associated with the current attitudes of the Ghanaian authorities in the arrest of vulnerable, helpless and powerless women of the Buduburam Liberian Refugee camp which is located at about 45 minutes drive from Accra. First of all, let me take this time to correct Mr.Gbassay Golee and co-worker who previously wrote about the incident about the Buduburam refugee camp.
The camp was established in October, 1990 when the first influx of refugees arrived in Ghana after the killing of President Samuel K. Doe in Monrovia. The killing of President Samuel K. Doe was an act that was master minded by the than leadership of ECOMOG under the directives of the Ghanaian peace-keeping force. So, the hatred that we are seeing today by arresting these peaceful women is something that is back dated from the very onset of the Ghanaian peace-keeping mission in Liberia.
Notwithstanding, if an individual is under consistent pressure and attacks, they might not always remember what is conscious taking place at the time. So, many Liberians despite of the Ghanaian military involvement in handling Former President Samuel Doe over to Prince Johnson of the INPFL to be killed with the intend to bring peace in the country, did not realize how most Ghanaian because of extreme nationalism, nepotism, hatred and extreme wickedness always hated Liberian refugees staying, schooling and living in their country. The camp did not start in 1996. The camp was established back in 1990.
I first became a resident of the Buduburam refugee camp back in June, 1995 when me along with my sisters and brother sort greener pasture from previous political, military and social upheavals in Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Unlike all the other three countries mention here, most Liberians considered Ghana as a safe haven. To them Ghanaian were considered generous people. In part this generalization is true, because under the leadership of Former President Jerry John Rawlings, refugees had the fullest support of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) leadership. Never a day during President Rawlings leadership where Liberians requested to leave the country forcefully or threaten by his administration. Most of the threats at the time came from the opposition party of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) which was under then lead by John A. Kofour who is current the Ghanaian president. The NPP during most of her political platform use the threat of sending refugees back to their country, because the refugees were brought in the country by Rawlings. These threats were also enforced by local Ghanaian residents around the camp through kidnapping children to be used for ritual purposes, rapes, arm robberies and claiming land from some refugees after they paid X amount of money to their local Ghanaian neighbors to build their home.
The economy of Ghana in some way is flourishing because of the foreign exchange the refugees are importing in the country daily. Most refugees at the Buduburam refugee camp get their financial assistance from family and friends who live overseas. The refugees at the camp have no job even if they are qualify to work. If they are qualify to work, they have to option a work permit from the government a process that most refugees can not afford, because they don't have the money to undergo those frustrating processes. During my 11 years stay at the camp, I usually generated money from growing local vegetable crops which are sold in the local Liberian refugee markets. Refugee women and men who had some money to initiate a micro-business can not be allowed to sell their goods into the Ghanaian market place, but rather do their selling on the camp.
Over the years during my stay in Ghana, refugees have experience malpractices both from the Ghanaian local residence and the government under the presidency of J.A.Koffour through the Military. In February 2003, at about 4:00am about 200 well armed Ghanaian military and Police force surrounded the Buduburam Refugee Camp with the mission that refugees are rebels and as such kept arm in their homes and were also training rebels to destabilize the country. From 4:00am to 6:00pm on February 23, 2003, all the men of the camp were commanded to assemble at the soccer field where the women held their peaceful protest few weeks ago. After thorough search by both the armed soldiers and police, no arms were found neither did they find a site that was supposedly to be used for training rebels to escalate the country into civil unrest. The accusing of Liberian refugees are trouble makers, violent, prostitutes, robbers and thieves are all conclusion held on grounds that the government of the NPP party and it supporters have negative stereotypical behaviors against refugees a factor that one can conclude today to be the variables which is underlying their arrest of our mothers, sisters, daughters and children.
Over the past 17 years in Ghana, Liberian refugees have been law abiding, peaceful, humble and never violated any local or state laws of the Republic of Ghana. Most of the cases of violent activities on the camp came as a result of either the UNHCR not playing her role as refugee agency or the government using some clandestine acts of invasion violating the basic human rights of powerless, harmless and vulnerable people. I am not saying here that some refugees were not obedient in some way or the other, but most refugees at the camp are people who respect law and order.
The current situation happening at the camp at this point was something that was premeditated and planned by the government years before. In 2005 when I was still at the camp, rumors amongst local Ghanaian citizens was such that now that the camp was about to be closed, " you refugees will go back home whether you like it or not and if you dare not go, you will what will make a you to leave....." these were some of the statements by local Ghanaian citizens living around the camp. These people come of the camp regularly with the intend to visit and just look at the infrastructures that refugees built during these years of exile and they envy them. Refugees were able to built huge churches, schools, houses, recreational centers, and so on and these people create hatred that these things are built for refugees. Why should they be so naive? Does being a refugee means that you should not be entitle to those basic things? In fact, who provided these things for the refugees? Is it the government of Ghana or UNHCR and her implementing partners? None of these infrastructures were built for refugees except for few school buildings that were constructed by UNHCR and one was later seized by the local Ghanaian chief and the hospital which was just reconstructed and few facilities added in 2005.
The government arrest of these women shows how evil hearted the current government is in relations to refugee issues. This hurt me personally, because some of us have develop friends with some Ghanaians and their government's behavior is about to spoil that relationships. Refugees over the past years, have been denied basic needs such as education or scholarships, proper health care, sanitation problems, food and proper nutrition, safe and clean drinking water and employment opportunities for those who are qualified to work. Very few Liberians have the opportunity to work in Ghana.
Both Decontee Tarlue and Tenneh Kamara where both women that I have worked with in Ghana at the Buduburam refugee camp. They are both hard working, committed to creating awareness of refugee issues as well as engaging in community based initiatives to foster self-help and sustainability. The women's protest that generally categorized by a peaceful move that never involve nakedness in any kind. Some media reported that these women were naked a statement that was publicized by the Spokesperson of the Ghanaian National Police Force. These statements are false as I have been in close contact with students of the Buduburam Student Movement, Network of NGOs and local concern individuals. It is clear to note here that the current action of the police and military was a clear indication of the government anti-refugee sentiments that has so engulfed their minds in dehumanizing refugees and taking their rights from them.
The issue here is not reintegration. Liberians were not a part of the country. We can only be reintegrated in Liberia, but not Ghana. We can only be integrated. Integration in Ghana is not a choice that can be forced on an individual. It is a matter of choice not force. How can Liberians be integrated in a society that rarely accept them and consider them humans?
Most Ghanaian consider Liberians to be robbers, thieves, liars, rebels and prostitute. Being a refugee is not something anybody want to be. It is a life associated with internal pain, isolation, extreme poverty and a warehouse of stereotypes. In Ghana, when you identify yourself as a refugee, the community consider as an outcast and lawless person which is not true. I have some friends who are national of Ghana and they become surprise when they come and see how refugees are living...peacefully.
The government of Liberia and the international community as well as UNHCR need to take immediate step to handle this disgrace on our continent. Why should a people who call themselves civilize behave in such a way that is characterized by wickedness and lost of human dignity. Is this the freedom and justice we are proclaiming daily in our national heritage? I stand to defend any position taken in this article. If the United Nations through its refugee agency is planning her role, this incident shouldn't have happened.
Worcester State College