Fifty-seven Liberians in Ghana who besieged the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for 32 days, demanding to be resettled in Europe, have been left stranded at the Cantonments Police Station in Accra.
The group, including 35 women, five children and 17 men, had besieged the UNHCR offices with their luggage and water, demanding to be resettled in a country other than Ghana and their home country, Liberia.
Since the UNHCR could not meet their demand, they lived outside the walls of the organisation without returning to their homes at the Budumburam Refugee camp near Kasoa.
After efforts to get them to return to their base failed, the UNHCR called the police and they were sent to the Cantonments Police Station last Thursday.
When the Daily Graphic visited the station, some of the Liberians were seen sleeping on the bare ground, others were cooking behind the offices, while others were loitering at the police barracks. Some of the children were walking about half naked and barefooted.
One of the leaders of the group, Mr Moses Anderson, in an interview, claimed that they had besieged the offices of the UNHCR because the land on which they lived at the Budumburam camp had been taken over by the indigenes.
“We have nowhere to go now. We have been given up to January 15, 2018 to vacate the land. We have no money and no jobs. We don’t know why the UNHCR is delaying with our resettlement,” he said.
According to him, following the cessation on June 30, 2012 of the refugee status of all Liberians who fled Liberia to Ghana as a result of the civil war in that country between 1989 and 2003, they had opted to be resettled specifically in Canada, the United Kingdom or Australia.
He said they had been given three options, comprising voluntary repatriation to Liberia, local integration in Ghana or resettlement in a third country.
“But some of us opted for resettlement in a third country and we have been waiting for years for that to happen without success,” he said.
One of the stranded persons, Madam Mabel G. D. Nyanawreh, currently in her 40s, who said she came to Ghana when she was 17, claimed that her house had been demolished by the landowners at Budumburam and she had nowhere to go to.
“I don’t want to go back to Liberia because it is not safe for me. I want to seek asylum in Canada, the UK or Australia,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Cantonments District Police Commander, Superintendent of Police Mr William Asante, said he was worried about the presence of the group at the place, as there was no shelter for them, neither was there a place of convenience.
He said the command tried to convey them back to Budumburam but they rejected the black marine van that was to transport them, contending that they were not criminals, since the van is used for conveying accused persons from police cells to the courts.
Mr Asante stated that he had contacted the Liberian Embassy in Ghana and the UNHCR to find out the way forward.
When the Daily Graphic contacted the Liberian Embassy in Ghana, the Chief Deputy of Mission, Mr Aliu M. Massaquoi, confirmed that the Cantonments Police had informed the embassy about the situation and it had since forwarded a report to the Liberian government.
He said the people could not describe themselves as Liberian refugees in Ghana, as the Liberian refugee situation had been brought to a close since June 30, 2012.
“They were given packages comprising voluntary repatriation and local integration and that had been effected. If they have any document stating a resettlement package, they should make it available, because there is nothing like that,” he said.
An Associate Protection Officer at the UNHCR, Mr Edmund Quartey, said: “It was not true that they had been given three options. These people are not persons of concern to the UNHCR because they are not refugees.”
He said during the closure of the Liberian refugee situation, there were about 11,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana. By 2013, he said, 5,000 of them had been repatriated voluntarily to Liberia, while 3,500 opted for local integration and they were given two years’ residence permit, renewable after every two years.
He said 250 others, after rigorous investigations, were allowed to maintain their refugee status “but some others, including these people, opted for exemption from being repatriated or being integrated,” he explained.
He explained further that the UNHCR had no power to resettle refugees but identified and lobbied states to receive refugees who wanted to seek asylum.
“But in the case of the Liberian refugees, this option was not on the table,” Mr Quartey added..