Human rights groups sue government over detained refugees

A coalition of human rights organisations has sued the Ghanaian government for “gross violation” of the rights of Liberian refugees in reaction to the simmering stand-off over repatriations.

“The government’s forced deportation and detention of these refugees without recourse to the courts is a blatant violation of the rules of natural justice,” said Edward Amuzu, head of the Ghana legal resources centre.

Some 630 refugees, mostly women and children, are being detained at a camp in the Eastern Region of Ghana and are under heavy police guard following their arrest by the Ministry of Interior on 17 March. Of these refugees, 16 have already been stripped of their refugee status and deported to Liberia.

The refugees were arrested for holding a one-month protest to draw attention to what they said were unfair condition under which they would be repatriated.

A Liberian government delegation is holding diplomatic talks with the Ghanaian president on 26 March to try to resolve the stand-off.

Refugee demands

In early March 500 of the refugees delivered a petition with three demands to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Ghana Refugee Board, saying they did not want to be integrated into Ghanaian society.

Instead they demanded to be resettled in a third country, preferably in Europe. They also said they would return to Liberia but only if they were provided with US$1,000 each – ten times the amount UNHCR is offering.

Legal action

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.

Government position

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.

Agyekum said the government is basing its right to deport the refugees on a 1951 Refugee Convention clause which states that when conditions have improved in a refugee’s country of origin the host government is no longer obliged to host them.

Minister of State in the Interior ministry, Nana Obiri Boahen, told IRIN that the government “welcomes the suit [and] will respond appropriately.”

Diplomacy

A Liberian delegation held talks with Ghana’s ministers of interior and foreign affairs and high-ranking national security officials in Accra on 25 March and will speak to Ghanaian President John Kufor on 26 March.

So far the meetings ended “inconclusively,” Agyekum said.

But he added, “Both delegations are resolved to reach conclusions that are mutually beneficial.”

UNHCR ‘not pleased’

The UN refugee agency said it hopes to convince Ghana to find alternative solutions to deportation. “We are not very pleased with the way things are right now,” spokeswoman for UNHCR in Accra Needa Jehu Hoya told IRIN.

“UNHCR is doing all it can to ensure the rights of the refugees are protected,” she said adding that UNHCR said 13 of the deported refugees were legally registered.

Some 40,000 Liberian refugees still live in Ghana, according to the Ghana Refugee Board, most of them live in Buduburam camp in Central Region, 60 km west of the country’s capital Accra. The rest live in the Krisan camp in Ghana’s Western Region.

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