Conflicting narratives on the evacuation of Liberians in Ghana? Here are the facts

On May 23, 2024, the Daily Graphic reported that 750 Liberian refugees, who had been living in Buduburam refugee camp in the Central region for decades, had left Ghana for their home country. They boarded 20 buses, accompanied by cargo vehicles which carried their belongings.

The report indicated that they were part of 4,300 Liberians scheduled to leave between May and June 2024.

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 This resulted in several misconceptions and a banter between Ghanaians and Liberians on social media.

Some accounts on TikTok claimed that the Liberians were being forced out of the camp without being informed.

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 Others claimed that the Liberian government had to rush to repatriate their citizens because the Ghanaian government had demolished their homes.

In this article, Fact-Check Ghana recounts how the Buduburam refugee camp came to be, and why the Liberian inhabitants of the camp are returning to their country.

Liberian War and Buduburam Camp

The first Liberian civil war began in 1989 and ended in 1996; thousands of Liberians were killed. The second and most brutal war occurred from 1999 to 2002. It reignited again in 2003 to become what Liberians call “War, War Three”.

Many Liberians fled the country and settled in neighbouring countries. Some of those refugees settled at the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana.

The camp is located along the Accra-Cape coast highway. It was opened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1990.

Repatriation Efforts

In 2006, three years after peace had reigned in Liberia, the UNHCR encouraged and supported Liberians to return home. In July 2006, the UNHCR supported 298 Liberian refugees to set sail from Ghana to Liberia aboard a chartered passenger vessel.

This was because the U.N. had ruled that same year, 2006, that it was safe for Liberian refugees to return home.

In 2010, the Ghanaian Refugee Board reached an agreement with the UNHCR to close the camp. Two years later, the UNHCR withdrew the refugee status and all support for the Liberians living in the camp.

According to the UNHCR, 42,000 Liberian refugees found safety in Ghana during the period of the Liberian civil wars. Although the agency had withdrawn their refugee status, as of May 2020, about 15,000 of them remained in Ghana.

In August 2021, the Liberian government, through the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), announced plans to dispatch a high-level delegation to Ghana to rescue struggling Liberian refugees at the Buduburam refugee camp.

In November of that same year, the LRRRC returned to Ghana and expressed serious concerns about the situation of Liberian refugees in the country to Ghanaian authorities.

The deliberations between the two countries resulted in a decision for the Liberian government to voluntarily repatriate some 7,000 Liberians from the Buduburam Refugee Camp by January 31, 2022.

This deadline was missed.

During that time, concerns about increasing criminal activities in and around the Camp incensed traditional authorities in the area. The Paramount Chief of Gomoa Fetteh, Nana Abor Atta II, told the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in September 2021 that they wanted the land back to redevelop it because the criminal activities were tarnishing the image of their land.

“The kind of activities going on at the Buduburam Camp is very appalling and does not bring honour and dignity to the land of Gomoa, Central Region and Ghana as a whole,” he said.

Demolition

On August 3, 2021, the Gomoa East District Assembly issued an ultimatum to the inhabitants of the camp to vacate by September 30th. The Assembly said it wanted to demolish and redevelop the area.

The Liberian inhabitants of the camp, many of whom had no connections back home, and some of them not willing to return home, stayed regardless of the ultimatum by the Assembly.

In March 2024, the Assembly went ahead to demolish the structures and homes at the camp.

Speaking to the Voice of America after the demolishing, Wendell Elijah Mallobe, one of the Liberian inhabitants at the camp, said he had been living in Buduburam for more than 30 years.

“I don’t know anybody in Liberia. Nobody. They burned the village I was living in,” he said.

After the March 2024 demolition, the Executive Secretary of the Ghana Refugee Board, Tetteh Paddie, reiterated that most of the inhabitants at the camp were not refugees.

“Buduburam is no longer a refugee camp. We have several people living there who are not refugees. In fact, most of the people living there are not refugees, including the Liberians. Since the demolition, we’ve done some head counts and so far, 268 persons who are actually refugees have come forward as having been affected.

“Those are the people we have a responsibility over and we are working on relocating to a refugee camp, we are moving them away from Buduburam,” he said.

He said the Board has decided to transfer the known refugees to some of the two refugee camps in the country.

“We have two refugee camps in the Western Region, in the Elembelle district and we are moving them into one of these camps. Out of the 268 people who have come forward, 231 have opted to go to Ampain. So, for these people who have opted to go to the refugee camp, we will provide free transportation. We will provide some amount of money for them to start, this will be provided by the UNHCR, they are our partners,” he said.

In the middle of May 2024, Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Legal Affairs, Jeddi Armah led a government delegation to Ghana. At a pre-departure ceremony with his countryfolk, Mr Armah indicated that engagements with Ghanaian authorities since 2021 had culminated in their planned departure.

“We have had fruitful engagements and discussions with the Ghanaian government throughout this period, and they have been giving us the necessary and needed support to undertake this exercise,” he said.

Mr Armah entreated the Liberians to take this opportunity to return home. He said their government had made all the necessary arrangements for their smooth repatriation and stay in Liberia.

Thus, the repatriation of the Liberians from Budumburam on May 23, 2024, was not because the Ghanaian government was forcing them out. It was rather the Liberian government following through previous deliberations to voluntarily repatriate its citizens.

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