Demolition of homes, churches leaves hundreds of Liberian refugees in limbo in Ghana

By Ken Kagicha |
Ghanaian refugee camp demolition
Houses and churches have been demolished in a Ghanaian refugee camp, leaving thousands with nowhere to go, according to local reports. | ISHR

Hundreds of Liberian refugees living in Ghana have been left destitute following the demolition of a section of a refugee camp, 45 kilometers outside of the country’s capital, Accra. The Buduburam refugee camp has been home to Liberians for 35 years after thousands fled two brutal civil wars between 1989 and 2003. 

Although the UN had ruled that the refugees were safe to return home in 2006, many Liberians living in Ghana say they have no connection or relations with their home country preferring to stay in Ghana. 

Speaking to Christian Daily International, the President of the Liberian Community Leadership at Buduburam Refugee camp, Dennis Yoko Gwion, said that the UN recommendation for an option of refugee integration within the Ghanaian society in 2010 has not worked as planned due to what he termed as restrictions by the government. 

“The Ghana Refugee Board gave us Liberian passports with resident permits which restricted us from working and doing business. We were promised that housing would be provided and that we would be relocated from Buduburam but the Refugee Board has kept us here all this time,” said Gwion.   

Gwion adds that 6,168 registered persons have been displaced as a result of the demolitions, which also included the destruction and looting of 65 churches.  

“Most people are unwillingly opting to go back home because they have nowhere to stay. People are living in congested school buildings with no food, water and poor sanitation,” he said. 

Ghanaian refugee camp demolition
As a bulldozer flattens buildings, the displaced population gathered their belongings but has nowhere to go, according to Dennis Yoko Gwion. | Screenshot of video provided by Dennis Yoko Gwion

The refugees, who have been camping in nearby schools following the February 27 demolition are now at risk of being pushed to the streets after the authorities gave notice to the affected refugees to vacate the schools. The demolition happened despite assurance from the Chair of the Ghana Refugee Board, Professor Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah who said in comments at the UNHCR in Geneva in 2022 that the decommissioning of the refugee camp will be conducted in a “safe, humane and efficient manner consistent with domestic and international law and Ghana’s human rights obligations.”

The Executive Secretary of the Ghana Refugee Board, Tetteh Padie, was quoted last month as saying about 600 people were affected by the demolitions, including Liberians and Ghanians. 

“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 refugees have come forward as having been affected,” said Padie.

The Board, added Padie, is making arrangements for 231 documented refugees to be moved to another camp in Western Region with the help of UNHCR.

In his comments to CDI, Gwion refuted the refugee board’s account, sharing photos and video recordings of displaced people who he said would be sleeping on the streets with little to no access to water and food.

Ghanaian refugee camp demolition
Displaced people from the demolished houses gathered their belongings near the settlement manager's office of the Ghana Refugee Board. | Screenshot of video provided by Dennis Yoko Gwion

The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) whose leadership recently visited the site announced an emergency webinar to highlight the plight of the refugees and mobilize the much needed aid in the face of what ISHR terms as a “dire situation.”  

“As the situation deteriorates, the camp coordinator has issued a distressing message: our food reserves are rapidly depleting, and medical conditions are escalating. We cannot sit idly by as our fellow human beings suffer,” the ISHR said in a statement.

ISHR visit to Ghanaian refugee camp.
Dennis Yoko Gwion leads ISHR President Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher and Secretary General Matthias Boehning through the area where houses and churches were demolished at the refugee camp in Buduburam, Ghana. | ISHR

ISHR Secretary General Matthias Boehning emphasized the need for the people of Buduburam refugee camp to be successfully integrated into Ghanaian society.

“The Ghanaian government must follow up its words in Geneva with action. The ISHR will continue to work to ensure that the fate of the people in the Buduburam refugee camp is not forgotten and that real solutions are created,” noted Boehning.

Liberian President Joseph Nyuma Boakai also weighed in on the demolition incident and suggested the eviction of the refugees was linked to a land ownership tussle. 

“It is the understanding of the President that the current activities taking place under the auspices of the Gomoa-Fetteh Traditional Council, who are believed to be the owners of the land hosting the Buduburam Camp,” said the President in a statement published on his social media.

President Boakai urged the Ghanaian Government to intervene and ensure that the refugees living in the camp are “safe, protected and treated humanely.”