Thursday, March 27, 2008

Human rights groups in Ghana sue government over treatment of Liberian refugees

A coalition of Ghanaian human rights groups has sued the Accra government for its treatment of Liberian refugees.

Ghanaian police arrested more than 600 Liberian refugees – mostly women and children – on March 17 at the Buduburam camp after a five week sit-in strike in front of the camp. A few days later, police reentered the camp and arrested about 30 men who they claimed were causing trouble.

Nearly 40,000 Liberian refugees reside in Ghana, some who have lived there since 1990 when the country’s civil war began. Most of them live in Buduburam camp, just outside of Accra.

The protesters were demanding UNHCR, the UN refugee organization, either resettling them in a third country – like the U.S. or a European country – or increasing their repatriation allowance from $100 to $1000 if they were to return to Liberia.

From IRIN:

The Human Rights Coalition is filing a suit on behalf of one of the detained refugees, Chucider Lawrence, asking the Ghanaian government to release her and provide justification for her arrest and detention.

“We want to test the law with this case and depending on the outcome we will proceed with a general suit to compel the government to answer to the gross human rights abuses of the [all the detained] refugees,” said Amuzu.

Under Ghanaian law no one can be detained for more than 48 hours without being arraigned.

The Ghanaian government has justified its action saying the refugees have violated laws by protesting to the police without notice.

“Further deportations have not been discarded,” said Ghana deputy information minister, Frank Agyekum, however he also said the deportations have been suspended pending the outcome of diplomatic discussions with the Liberian government.

Ghana has attempted to invoke the 1951 Refugee Convention claiming that once conditions improve in person’s country of origin, it is no longer necessary that the host government supports them.

In other news, the UNHCR has asked Ghana’s government to cease forcibly deporting refugees who are registered with the organization.

"It is very unfortunate that the unacceptable actions of a few have led to this situation,” said George Okoth-Obbo, the UNHCR Director of International Protection Services. “Refugees of course have the duty to respect the laws of the country of asylum established for good public order. Any further sit-ins, demonstrations or other unlawful acts must cease unconditionally. At the same time, while fully understanding the frustration of the authorities, I would like to reiterate UNHCR's call to the Government not to make any further deportations and to work with us to address the situation through other mechanisms available within the laws of Ghana. Unfortunately, the victims in all of this are the innocent majority of Liberian refugees who call Ghana home".

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