Ghana - Flygtninge tilbageholdende med at returnere til Liberia
GHANA-LIBERIA: Liberian refugees still wary of returning home
IRINnews.org, 9. december 2005
Skønt der er gået mere end to år siden borgerkrigen i Liberia fandt sin afslutning, og der endog har været afholdt et relativt fredeligt parlaments- og præsidentvalg, så lever der fortsat mere end 200.000 libanesere i flygtningelejrene i nabolandene i Vest-Afrika. Derudover findes formentlig et tilsvarende antal mere eller mindre integrerede i de vestafrikanske samfund. Hovedparten ønsker ikke at vende tilbage til en usikker situation uden job i Liberia, og foretrækker indtil videre at opholde sig i lejrene, men frygter nu at lejrene vil blive lukket ned.
“I can’t go back to Liberia. My house was burnt. My sister was killed,” said Peah, who lives in a refugee camp outside the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
More than two years after the end of Liberia’s brutal 14-year war, some 200,000 Liberian refugees are still eking out a living in camps and makeshift homes across West Africa.
Last month marked a turning point in the country’s turbulent history with the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president – Africa’s first elected female leader. She vowed to close the dark chapter of conflict and rebuild the country - creating jobs, helping farmers to return to their land and restoring an infrastructure gutted by the war.
But politicians, aid workers, security experts and diplomats agree that the challenges are immense. And many Liberians living in exile have decided to wait and see.
“If the situation improves, I might go back. But until then I am fixed here in Ghana,” Peah told IRIN.
Peah makes a living from a small food shop in the Buduburam refugee camp, and frying chunks of plantain that she sells in small transparent plastic bags.
“What I do here is enough to cater for my family and pay for my children’s schooling. There is insecurity in Liberia and there are no jobs.”
Getting by on taking photos, playing guitar
Amos T. Benson, 34, who fled Liberia in 1996, recently had a chance to see his home country when he won a contract to deliver a car to the capital, Monrovia.
But he was unimpressed. He returned to Ghana after November’s presidential elections with no plan to return anytime soon. He says he would even lift relatives out of Liberia if he could.
“I am not going back now,” he said. “If I had money, I would have brought my parents to stay with me here in Ghana.”
Buduburam camp has been Benson’s home for nine years. He makes a living from a photo studio - launched with the help of a fellow Liberian in 1998 - with some additional income through playing bass guitar at church and social engagements.
He is concerned that over the years other refugees have opened photo shops in the camp, slicing into his profits.
“I used to earn about [US] $300 a month,” Benson said. “But from five photo studios in the camp when I started, there are now more than 50. So my monthly earnings have gone down to about $175 except for special occasions like Christmas and New Year. I can’t save because everything goes back into catering for my family of four, and six other dependents.”
It’s much the same story for many of the 40,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana.
One particular concern is the continued presence of jobless ex-combatants throughout Liberia.
“The fighters have to be fully disarmed,” 35-year-old Cecelia Wreh told IRIN. “There should be full re-integration and retraining for those who are going back. Until this is done, Liberia will still not be safe to return to.”
“I still remember some of the brutalities I suffered at the hands of those soldiers,” she added.
To date, over 100,000 ex-combatants have been disarmed in Liberia, according to the UN mission there, but thousands have yet to receive assistance to find work and reintegrate into civilian life.
Refugees get by with minimal aid
In Ghana since 1995, Wreh supports her family by buying fruit and vegetables in the local market, which she sells inside the refugee camp where the majority of residents no longer receive food aid.
The UN halted assistance to the Liberian refugees in 2000, after a lull in conflict prompted waves of people to return home. But when fighting broke out again, sending even more Liberians fleeing their country, UNHCR resumed some of its aid in Ghana, including food aid in mid-2004 to those that nutritional surveys showed to be the most vulnerable.
UNCHR protection officer Jane Muigai said UNHCR will continue supporting Liberian refugees in Ghana while encouraging more to return home as the situation improves.
“It is not UNHCR’s policy to completely cut off aid to the refugees,” Muigai said. “We will continue to monitor the political situation in Liberia and if it improves, we will step up the voluntary repatriation process in order to encourage more refugees to go home.”
But in the safety of the camp in Ghana, where UNHCR says water and medical care are available for a nominal fee, many are reluctant to even consider the option of returning home.
UNHCR began repatriating Liberians in late 2004 - a little over a year after conflict officially ended - but as of 2 December only 2,450 Liberians had opted to return, according to the refugee agency.
The biggest community of Liberian refugees in the region is in impoverished Guinea, where about 54,200 Liberians still live.
Guinea once hosted over 400,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Just over 19,000 Liberians have left Guinea with UN assistance since off-and-on repatriation convoys resumed in November 2004, according to UNHCR. But the agency said it expects to repatriate 40,000 in the first half of 2006.
UNHCR staff in Guinea - who recently surveyed a small sample of Liberians in two camps there - say the refugees largely appear eager to return home, but many want to wait two or three months after Sirleaf’s inauguration to watch how things evolve in the country.
The refugees surveyed are most worried about a lack of assistance upon returning home and a lack of job opportunities in Liberia.
What may be keeping some living in exile is the lingering hope of one day being included in a UN programme to resettle refugees in developed countries.
“In fact that is what we all keep praying to God for,” said Benson back at the Buduburam camp.
“That is the only hope we have here in this camp. If that fails and should Ghana in the near future asks us to leave, I would prefer to go to Guinea or Nigeria than to go back to Liberia.”