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Why Liberian Refugees Refused Integration into Ghanaian Society

Written on:March 24, 2008
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By Semantics King Jr., Minneapolis

Ghanaians have always made the world or at least Africans to believe that the proverbial Ghanaian “Akwaba” is genuine and obviously observable when people from other countries are living or temporarily resident on Ghanaian soil.

And there is no doubt about how they sing praises with how hospitable, friendly and accommodating Ghanaians are. They pride themselves as being true Africans.

There was no wonder then, when victims of Liberia’s civil war decided to seek refuge in this hospitable African country in the early ‘90s.

When the first batch of 25 Liberian refugees arrived in Ghana in 1990, Ghanaians under the able leadership of Ghana’s president, Jerry John Rawlings who also later became the chairman of the regional body of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), openly accepted the Liberians.

Though this writer was not a member of that first group of refugees, he spoke to some surviving members of that group of people and found that Ghanaians even offered the refugees their personal homes to live in, gave them food to eat and even helped some to attend school in Ghana at the expense of some Ghanaian hosts.

In fact, when some Liberians were stranded on sea in 1996 onboard the Bulk Challenge Ship during Liberia’s shortest but fiercest war in central Monrovia, other west African countries refused to allow the ship land with the huge number of suffering and hungry Liberian refugees on their soil but Ghana did.

And there may be several other stories never heard of on how some Ghanaians assisted their Liberian African neighbors (it’s only Ivory Coast that is between Ghana and Liberia in terms of geographic locations and English is spoken in Ghana as in Liberia unlike Ivory Coast).

Therefore someone reading this might say wow that was great help given Liberians in Ghana. So getting adjusted or (as the UN refugee agency calls it) integrated into Ghanaian society should not be a problem for any Liberian refugee in Ghana.

Oh sure enough if you consider the above accounts which have been made public by many Ghanaians and even some Liberians.

But there is the other side of the coin. That side is always hidden and perhaps a secret that nobody dares talk about. No.

This writer,then himself a refugee but a relatively dispassionate journalist who lived and worked in Ghana from 2000 to 2006, knows all too well events that happened in the Liberian refugee camp and even those in Ghanaian communities because he traveled across all regions of Ghana and worked with a few Ghanaian dailies in Accra.

In May 2000, there was a serious scuffle between the Liberian refugees in Buduburam and the Ghanaian police force. During that time, live bullets were fired at Liberian refugees and when arguably Ghana’s best radio station Joy F.M reported about how Ghanaian police over-reacted to the refugee situation in the camp, it broadcast vividly describing the situation on air and it’s reporter that saw the incident said that was inhumane.

Unfortunately, however, that particular news item was withdrawn during the subsequent newscast on Joy F.M. leaving many discerning listeners to wonder what was happening to Joy since it has a custom of repeating news items regularly but not this one.

The incident involving the police and the refugees that day arose when refugees had captured a Ghanaian who was using long-pointed iron(used in Africa to kill frogs at night) to harm and eventually kill the refuges at night.

Due to the heat in Ghana coupled with the fact that most of the houses that refugees lived in were built with mud, living or sleeping in them at night can be a real oven. Therefore, the refugees used to leave their windows opened at night to catch the mid-night cozy breeze that would put them to sleep.

It was during this time that a Ghanaian was arrested harming another Liberian refugee family at night and turned over to the Camp Police.

Unfortunately, however, the police refused to prosecute the Ghanaian as he was released without any explanation from the Ghanaian authority in the refugee camp, so the refugees were clamoring for justice to be meted against him. But the police refused and the refugees said they wouldn’t leave the camp police station. Reinforcement was called from the nearby Military based and began firing directly at the refugees. Many were wounded severely.

Between 2001 and 2002, several children were reported missing and up to now there are no reports indicating they have been found at all.

On February 23, 2003 Ghana police forcefully rounded all men age 15 up on the soccer patch after one of Ghana’s newspapers, The Chronicles reported that Buduburam was a training base for fighters in the war in Ivory Coast. No weapons were found among the refugees. They were however, threatened by Ghana’s military commander, Brigadier General Danquah.

During that early morning raid, police and sniffer dogs including war helicopter were used to round up the men. The men remained in the scorching sun from 4am till 6pm Ghana time. Nobody condemn Ghana for violating the rights of refugees.

Before releasing the refugee men, security forces subjected them to insults, and branded them as criminals, rebels, and armed robbers, prostitutes and drug-traffickers.

In other instances, refugees have been arrested unjustly and incarcerated in prisons without due process of law even though  article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly says that nobody should be subjected  to arbitrary arrest,exile or detention.

Reports from families indicate that some of the refugees were taken away by Ghana police and have never been seen since.That is a clear violation of article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law….”

In Oct 2005 James Miller, a young and brilliant Liberian man was murdered in Awutu, a village near the refugee camp and his body parts cut into pieces like market meat. His killers are still at large.

Prior to that gruesome murder, several Liberian kids were found dead in the refugee camp with some of their body parts taken away by their killers for ritualistic reasons

In March 2006, a beautiful Liberian refugee woman, Joyce Wilson was killed in a hotel in Accra and her killers are still at large even today.

Although the camp Manager Cal Afun who is a Ghanaian said in a mass camp residents meeting at the Refuge Baptist Church that “nobody had the right to kill her”, Ghana police investigations continue without establishing the killers.

As if Joyce’s murder was not enough, another Liberian refugee woman, 30-year-old Amelia Gymulnee-Whitersoon was allegedly stabbed and burned to death on June 8,2006 at 10pm Ghanaian time in the refugee camp.

In April 2006,a 48-year-old Ghanaian man, Kojo Antwi allegedly raped a nine-year-old Liberian refugee girl while she was returning home from school in the camp. The case is still pending in Ghana as we speak.

Then in July, just before this writer left the refugee camp for the United States on July 26,2006,another Liberian refugee woman, Linda Johnson was nearly killed in Accra by some Ghanaian men had it not been God’s grace. Today, the attempted killers are moving about freely in the land of Gold.

The chairman of the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council, Varney Sambola asked as rhetorical question during one of the camp residents’ meetings, and I wish to reecho the same question, “when will enough be enough?” Where are the authorities both UNHCR and Ghana? When will the investigations end and the culprits brought to justice? When will violence against Liberian refugee women be as unacceptable as all other forms of violence?

I ask each one of you reading this article to just take a moment and think about the hardships that Liberian refugees in general but Liberian refugee women in Ghana in particular face with the passing of each day?

Do you think any Liberian refugee in Ghana experiencing such abuses will be willing and able to integrate in Ghanaian society?

Liberian refugees who were accepted to further their education at the University of Ghana, Legon are asked to pay their tuitions in foreign fees (almost $27,000united States dollars) while their Ghanaian counter-parts pay in Ghanaian cedis (less than a million cedis per semester or so). Is that a sign of integration for Liberian refugees?

In June 2007, the Nigerian government asked Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean refugees who refused to return home to integrate in Nigerian society and the refugees accepted. Why? Because refugees from those countries had been enormously helped by the Nigerian people, Nigerian churches and even Nigerian government.

Those refugees attending Nigerian Universities pay their tuition in Naira and not United States dollars as in Ghana just the same amounts that Nigerian nationals are paying for higher education. Many Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean refugees are offered well-paying jobs in Nigeria.

We have not heard of reports about how Liberian refugees in Nigeria are being killed by unknown men or people despite the fact that Nigeria has a very high crimes rate.

When the women refugees were demonstrating for increment to $1,000 in their repatriation package or they be resettled to third countries of asylum, a request that was directed at the UNHCR and not the government and people of Ghana, these were reactions from some Ghanaians all over the world.

“I think it’s time for the government of Ghana to send these guys out without any regards to international laws,” writes Prince, a Ghanaian in the United States.

“Stupid fools, western countries indeed. I don’t think Ghanaians can do this in any country, look at Libya even Gambia doing to our people over there. God bless Ghana.”

Another Ghanaian, Steve Acquah wrote on MyJoyOnline “these guys are crazy. They (Ghana government) have to throw them back to Liberia. Who told them to fight and become refugees? Ahhhh, in the first place, they (refugees) have not contributed in anyway to help in the development of our great country. They must be kicked out. Look at the way other African countries treat us when we are there….”

Ablorh Adjei, another Ghanaian wrote: “I think it’s time we tell the Liberians at Buduburam to go home and help rebuild their country rather than encourage them to stay in Ghana doing nothing”, he said online.

“We have had enough of them and their actions. They must go before they turn around and tell us in December that they are being prevented from voting in the presidential and Parliamentary elections.”

Another Ghanaian, only identified as Baby, reacting to a comment made by another said “you are very funny to say the kind of trash you are rattling about. What freedom of speech gives these ingrates the rights to demand and complain so badly? I surely presume you are a Liberian yourself because no right thinking Ghanaian would bring out such thrash” Baby said.

“Let these people go back to Liberia and help Johnson Sirleaf and co rebuild the country Charles Taylor destroyed, after all what other benefits other than chasing our married men, prostitution, and armed robbery we are getting from them. If you want to settle to Europe, first visit your equally peace hating Iraq and proceed from there. God is watching all you Liberians who seem ungrateful after all we have done for you, your rewards await you Western world indeed you chaotic lots. Please send these people back to Monrovia before they petition the UN of our devoiding them of their rights to vote as Liberian born Ghanaians.”

Another Ghanaian claiming to be writing from the United Kingdom who only identified himself as Asempa wrote, “These Liberians are first class ingrates. The government should dispose of them from Sikaman Ghana as rubbish with immediate effect otherwise, I will also mobilize some people from Kasoa, Weija and Buduburam camp area for counter demonstration against these ungrateful idiots,” he said.

“Can any of these idiots justify their demands? What had been their contribution to the local economy apart from prostitution and armed robbery? Liberia is safe now so they should go away as soon as possible.”

These are the people among whom UNHCR or the government of Ghana expect Liberian refugees to live. Is that not clear sign that integration for Liberian refugees in Ghanaian society would be even more disastrous than what is unfolding now?

Many Liberian refugees have been killed by cars while walking to the roadside to search for water. Records I met in Ghana indicate that for the last 10 years, Liberian refugees were deprived of pipe-borne water.

As a result, many risked their lives in search of water from boreholes, streams and other unhygienic sources.

Regarding shelter, refugees have built their own structures using their own means and money sent to them by relatives and friends from abroad over the last 18 years.

Many refugees are forced to pay taxes on their own homes by greedy Landowners and chiefs.

Though UNHCR has its name and banners over the camp with inscriptions such as “all UNHCR services are free”, refugees continue to pay for healthcare at the clinic and for shelter.

Many refugees who cannot afford the almost $50 charged them resort to over-the-counter treatment which often leads to health complications and fatalities.

On sanitation, although there are many latrines in the camp, each refugee wanting to attend to nature needs to pay 100 cedis, which is costly for many who can’t afford because they also need to look and pay for water and food.

Consequently, many refugees are victims of threats and attacks in the bushes and what is also called the “Gulf”(open space where they go to attend nature which is free) but requires distant walking and it’s risky.

Latrines and bathrooms were meant to be managed by refugees they(refugees), however, they have been taken over by Ghanaians, thereby limiting the potential employment of many refugees in the camp.

Education is a basic right to all refugee children in primary schools under domestic law. Not only have primary students been paying school fees, they have also been exempted from school feeding programs provided to all primary students in Ghana.

Due to lack of income from refugee parents, hundreds of children are unable to acquire basic education in the refugee camp.

Most alarming however, is the blatant lack of capacity building measures by UNHCR and the Christian Council of Ghana (a government agency responsible for refugee education).

Their programs supposed to equip refugees with skills needed for self-reliance and economic development. However, the limited training programs in the refugee camp lack resources, materials and internship programs.

Readers, how can Ghanaians expect the refugees to integrate into their society when very little has been done to offer them employment and skill development? When Ghanaians only pretend to like people or Liberians through their lips and not from their hearts?

What has happened to the so-called free enterprise market system that Ghana so proudly boasts about?

When refugee women who are forced to become the bread-winners of their various families in the camp are kicked out of their own Buduburam market by Ghanaian women, who claim “this is my country, get the hell out”, how is s refugee woman to make a living and support her family?

Although Ghana appears to be a stable and peaceful country in West Africa, the same cannot be said for the life of Liberian refugees in the camp. Because of the last 10 years, as already mentioned, refugees have been direct victims of serious attacks by unknown persons since 2000 when UNHCR withdrew all support for Liberian refugees in Ghana.

When Liberian refugees are continuing to experience abuse, intimidation and murder from many Ghanaians, does this not clearly indicate the xenophobia of Ghanaians to accept the Liberian refugees into their society?

Is it not apparent to you readers and the government of Ghana that these events make it obvious that Ghanaians are unwilling to co-exist with the Liberian refugees in the so-called integration process?

All forms of violence breach the very fundamental human rights covenants enshrined in the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Liberian refugees in Buduburam, Ghana have the right to equal protection under the law. Why are they not being protected? Anyone abusing others’ rights is acting against the law. Therefore I called on the authorities of the Western World and International Organizations to ensure that the law is respected because women’s and refugees’ rights are human rights.

18 Comments add one

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  3. Emeka says:

    Hello, this is a well written and collection of documented evidence to support your assertions although I do not access to them to agree or disagree with you. Others have already commented on the unbalance argument provided here. Just on quick point of correction that is Liberians refused and continue to refuse Nigeria’s offer of integration. Because ultimately what they want in my view is go to America and will not settle for anything less like living in a developing country which is just a little above the status of their country or similar as is the case of Sierra Leone. I rest my case.

  4. NANA AMA says:

    I just read this article and I’m very disappointed!for crying out loud ghana is a developing country, a third world country for that matter.what did you expect? that the government would build castles for the liberians?
    for your information 1000′s of ghanaians sleep outside;in the streets,on pavements,on verandas and a greater number in the mud houses you described.40% of ghanaians also do not have access to potable drinking water and travel miles for water and a number of the children get knocked down by cars as well. 1000′s of ghanaians are in jail for crimes they have not even been tried on. equally,the death of many ghanaians have not accounted for. so yes!our law enforcing body has to improve.

    SO PLEASE STOP PORTRAYING LIBERIANS AS VICTIMS.

  5. amoako dwomor joseph-italy. says:

    military men have no right to maltreat these people.these liberians are africans therefore they are also ghanaians but not refugees.i very sorry for my brothers and sisters of liberia living in ghana and i hope the LORD will soon open the door for all.i’m also a ghanaian living in italy.i wish you all the best.

  6. Zashkaser says:

    I’m glad that after surfing the web for uch a long time I have found out this information. I’m really lucky.

  7. K. Konadu says:

    Good and well argued article. I think you have done a good work but I turn to disagree with you on some issues especially those on education.

    I will say this article is bias and very sentimental and it is clearly portrayed by Semantics. I had my secondary education in Ghana and had about four Liberians in my year one of whom was the Compound Overseer (Prefect) called Griffiths Toe and these Liberians had equal access to basic necessities that Ghanaian students were enjoying.

    I am also a graduate student from the University of Ghana and a member of the Legon Pentecostal Union where we had a Liberian as one of our executives and he was not paying his fees in Dollars. Semantics the question that we need to ask ourselves is ‘are those Liberians who are paying their fees in dollars been recognised as refugees or have they been granted refugee status by the Ghanaian government?’ Remember that 3,000 Liberians have not been granted refugee status but still leave at the Budumbura camp and are not assisted by the UNHCR. With good jobs being offered to Liberians you have Iso who is one of the renowned presenters in Ghana who host couple of programmes on TV3.

    What you forgot is that in every country international students or students foreign countries pay international fees as I am paying overseas fees here in UK and judging form this angle these ‘Liberian refugees’ may not be refugees since they have not been recognised as such and by law have to pay international fees like any other international student.

    I condemn all the atrocities meted on Liberian refugees and this is a shame to the good name of Ghana. One of the problem raised when hosting refugees in a country is the tension between the host community and the refugees and this is what is going on in Ghana. I am doing a research on the Liberian refugees in Ghana and a lot of revelation has come out of it though I have not finish and hope publish it.

  8. K. Konadu says:

    Good and well argued article. I think you have done a good work but I turn to disagree with you on some issues especially those on education. I will say this article is bias and very sentimental and it is clearly portrayed by Semantics. I had my secondary education in Ghana and had about four Liberians in my year one of whom was the Compound Overseer (Prefect) called Griffiths Toe and these Liberians had equal access to basic necessities that Ghanaian students were enjoying. I am also a graduate student from the University of Ghana and a member of the Legon Pentecostal Union where we had a Liberian as one of our executives and he was not paying his fees in Dollars. Semantics the question that we need to ask ourselves is ‘are those Liberians who are paying their fees in dollars been recognised as refugees or have they been granted refugee status by the Ghanaian government?’ Remember that 3,000 Liberians have not been granted refugee status but still leave at the Budumbura camp and are not assisted by the UNHCR. With good jobs being offered to Liberians you have Iso who is one of the renowned presenters in Ghana who host couple of programmes on TV3. I condemn all the atrocities meted on Liberian refugees and this is a shame to the good name of Ghana. One of the problem raised when hosting refugees in a country is the tension between the host community and the refugees and this is what is going on in Ghana. I am doing a research on the Liberian refugees in Ghana and a lot of revelation has come out of it though I have not finish and hope publish it.

  9. Pokua says:

    I am shocked. No wonder Ghanaians think Liberians are so ungrateful.

    How good is the Ghanaian police to Ghanaians themselves, that Liberians expect such impeccable service from them. How many murders can the Ghanaian police solve in the first place for their own citizens?

    Ghana is not a developed country and the same ineptitude Liberians face from Ghanaian institutions, are experienced by Ghanaians as well.

    Ghana has done more that can be expected of them. If some Liberians prefer to try their luck in Nigeria or else where, they can go right ahead. But to descripe Ghanaians as cruel and wicked people, speaks volumes of yourself and all those Liberians who left Juicy comments for the world to see.

    Very, very one-sided article. This is not journalism! Not in the least.

    Essentially what you said in your article is that Liberians are angelic victims!

  10. Tarpeh says:

    What one-sided drivel. As a Liberian who benefited from Ghanaian generosity and kindness when I was a refugee in that country, I dont think your piece is fair at all.

    You, King, Jr also benefitted from their generosity as you yourself pointed out. So exactly what do you intend to gain by whipping up anti-Ghanania sentiments?

    Are the people of Liberia and the Liberian goivernment responsible for every foreigner who dies in Liberia?

    And as someone else pointed out, why dont these Liberians still in Ghana not jumping at the chance to go back to Liberia is they are suffering in Ghana like you claim they are?

    If my life is in danger someplace and I hate living there you wont have to PAY me to leave, especially when my ride home is free!

    Mr King, you just destroyed your credibility with your one-sided hatchet job. I guess lack of objectivity has always passed for journalism in Liberia.

    And you havent done anything to change that perception!

  11. Abi says:

    This is quite a candid report and outline of information. But what I wonder is why Liberians are still líving in Ghana and unwilling to repartriate is they have been treated quite unfiarly. Moreover, why this writer never mentioned anything about other security and diviant behaviors that Liberians were engaging. This makes this story lack authenticity

  12. Dear Brother King, I am grateful to ou for the information giving on here, words aren’t enough to express my inner person.
    Like you rightly puts it,I have well documented almost half of what our so-called the best in world have done to our brothers and sisters over the years, march 11,2002 a Liberian sister by the name Ruth as she told me her was is. was nearly killed by a young man who refused to give me his name just few yards from my house in Osu. it was around 21:12GMT i heard this lady crying, in a Liberian tone; my people your coming for me yai, when i got there, the young man told he that has employed this lady for 3months, but she doesn’t go to work on time, therefore he was teaching her lession, you won’t believe it this young man nearly cut this lady’s hand, blood all over her body, a friend on mind came runing in my house. Stevo! Stevo! there is man over trying to kill one of your sisters, as soon as we got there Daniel Kwenah and I, we held him with his cloth,I been able to at least understand few of their so-called languages, spoke Gahn to a man who said he was a Police and I have known him to be,when he was call to intervience, he told us that his duty wasn’t to protect foolish Liberian, he was a Ghanaian Police, not Liberian Police, can yu believe that? oh yes, that was what he told us. the following day, I went to the police station near the Sankar over pass, i was told to report the case to the Osu police station, which i did, but again a man there calling himslef Kofi told me that, look my brother, I have lots to think about not your Liberian business, up now no one ever care to Listen to our side of the story, I took her to the Police hospital, pay the hospital Bill, when we were asked there, i explain to the nurse on duty what happen to the Lady, she told me your Liberian gilrs likes men, a police officer telling me this’ However they still consider themselves the best in the whole world, I am yet to understand when a Ghanaian says we are the best, maybe the best to mis-treat others african brothers, or the best to mis-lead. I am disappointed, very disappointed with our Government back home, Liberian”’WE NEED TO LOVE EACH OTHERS, ATTEND TO THE CRIES OF YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS, Don’t always sit back to say they are right. they may not be right as you say…WORD OF CAUTION

  13. John says:

    Mr. King,
    Thank you for voicing out the frastration and inhumane treatment Liberian refugees are facing in Ghana. I lived in Ghana from 1999 -2004 before coming to the US. I actually went to college in Ghana. You are right that Liberian students in Ghana were required to pay United States dollar for education.

    One thing that you forgot to mention in your news article that I think is essential to mention is that Ghanaians are envious people. The recent crisis involving the refugees and the Ghanaian governement is a result of refugee voicing out their concerns about how the Ghanian Refugee Board is giving Liberian refugee benefits to Ghanaian. A bunch of envious and greedy people, Ghanaians pride themselves as been the best people in the world, when in reality, they are as cruel and wicked as the words themselves. I am a witness to many of the ritualistic killing of Liberians you mentioned in your news article, and truly Ghanains are not concern about it.

    Another thing to mention is the lie told by the Ghanian Interia Minister that Liberian women were naked on the road side. I think people who pride themselves as been sincere should hold such minister accountable for breach of ethics. No single woman or girl was ever naked during the people demonstration of the women on camp. The minister can not provide any substantial evidence to seen one naked woman.

    Finally, Ghanians should realized that Liberia has been and continued to be a home to many Ghanaians. The mean and wicked behaviors they are exibite toward Liberias will only fuel animosities among us as West Africans.

  14. Helena T. Krah says:

    i have read your article and think that it makes so much sense to me. i want to thank you for airing the plight of these Liberian refugees who Ghanaians think are ungrateful. But i want Ghanaians to know that the death of a frog always makes a little boy laugh.

  15. Mr. Brisco P. Toe says:

    I want to say a very big thank you to the hard working team of this website.
    I highly appreciate your effort to make our voices as Liberian refugees heard in the world.
    Keep on the good work. As I speak the tension is still high with us refugees here in Ghana. Our mothers and sisters are still in detention at the so-called Kodeabe detention camp in Ghana, about 650 women and children.
    So, don’t give up. I believe through your website many will get to know our problems and come to our aid. Thank you very much for this publication. I will keep on visiting this site and furnish you with the latest progress when possible.

  16. Mauro Tarquinio says:

    I’m not sure if Ghana is a signatory to the UN conventions regarding refugees but clearly they are in breach of international law according to nations that agree to those conventions. People should be careful how they treat and react to the less powerful. This disregard is rot that leads to things like humanitarian crimes and ultimately war. A violent aggressive person is not to be trusted no matter what “side” they sit on. The side shift when yo least expect it.

  17. KB says:

    Please get your so-called Liberian refugees to go home.Ghanaians are only reacting to what any rational citizen of a country would do in the face of provocation from so-called refugees.

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