Liberian Refugees At Buduburam Camp In Ghana Demonstrate, Stirring Up Rage In A Country That Gave Them Santuary For Eighteen Years, But Hey, Before You Condemn Them, Remember That No One Knows Tomorrow

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Kwamena Bartels, who is the Minister of Interior of the Republic of Ghana in West Africa has warned Liberian refugees living at the Buduburam Refugee Camp against their protest demonstrations. The Minister has demanded an end to the demonstration, making clear to the refugees that they have stretched his country’s patience to its limits. He has warned the demonstrating refugees at the Buduburam Camp in Ghana that their demonstration is illegal, and that they are violating the Public Order Act of 1994 that prevents such public disruption as is reportedly being displayed by these refugees.

The Liberian refugees are not happy about being asked to assimilate into Ghanaian society after almost two decades of living in a camp and isolated from the larger society. Others who are considering being repatriated to Liberia are demanding 1,000. a head for their voluntary return to their native Liberia. All of this is causing anger both in their host country of Ghana and among people who think that such attitude from refugees is a sign of ingratitude and a lack of feelings for their own plight as war refugees.

For nearly eighteen years, an average of 35,000 Liberians have resided in the Buduburam Camp in Ghana. But the camp has also been home to other African war refugees, and most recently, there are reports that other African refugees from Togo, Sudan, and other African countries have made the camp their home. Of course, we who have followed Liberian news know that during the 1990s and up to the last year, many Liberian refugees and other nationals posing as Liberian refugees have been resettled in the US and other western countries from the Buduburam Camp. The presence of newer refugees from around other wars in Africa coupled with the presence of Liberian unwillingness to return home or settle permanently in Ghana has of course added to the strain of living in the Buduburam camp even while placing an added strain on the host country of Ghana.

kwamena-bartels.jpgKwamena Bartels, Minister of the Interior

I was browsing around the web in search of information on this pressing situation in Ghana, and stumbled upon a Ghanaian blogger’s site. Despite the moderate tone of the blogger, the comments from the readers were the harshest I’ve seen in a long time, and I couldn’t help feeling the frustration of both the refugees and those who felt the need to take their anger out on the Liberian refugees. There were comments like, “How dare these ugly Liberians try to bite the hand that feeds them?” “How ungrateful?? Some actually commented, “God Bless Ghana!” “Throw out these ingrates,” and on and on. After reading these harsh comments, I couldn’t help but wonder when we as Africans will ever learn from our common mistakes? I wondered when Liberians as a people will also learn? The fact that we are now all over the globe is not sufficient reason to quit the fighting and complaining, maybe.

“Nobody knows tomorrow,” we used to hear. Years ago when my family and I arrived here to the US, I met a woman from Sierra Leone who introduced herself to me by calling me “one more ugly Liberian.” Without even getting to know me, she narrated her story of how Liberian girls used to steal Sierra Leonean men from Sierra Leonean girls, and how now my country was fighting an ugly war because we deserved what was happening to us. She claimed that we would all die like rats. I met her at the Michigan State University campus soon after we fled the war in the early 1990s. I was on a speaking trip with my husband to address the African Christian fellowship that year, and to my shock, there I was being reminded that my losses and my near death experience and my destitute state at that moment in the early 1990s was due to a simple matter of women on the two sides of the Mano River fighting over men. Haha, I could not help but feel sorry for my African sister. I could hardly argue with a woman who thought that the social issues over men palava were sufficient reason to send an entire nation to hell or that these very silly reasons were enough to wish a country of both men and women dead, and particularly to another woman who had never had any reason to be a part of her fight.

Of course, these are different times and these are different issues today, but all reveal themselves in the same stupid fights.

Sadly however, it was not long when her country, Sierra Leone, was also pulled into the war raging in Liberia. So, how dare those who claim that Liberian refugees are ungrateful also call them such ugly names when no one knows tomorrow.

Wasn’t it the cruel leader, Samuel Doe of Liberia who warned us Liberians during the early days of the civil war that “the rat’s trap is not for the rat alone?” Ironically, he was referring to us Liberians, not to other Africans, but his comments would go on to be true of not just Liberia, but for the entire region around Liberia. Don’t get me wrong; Samuel Doe was not the sort of person to quote proverbs to us Liberians. But our people also say, “If bad luck calls your name, banana breaks your teeth.”

But what happened to Liberia, the home of the once mighty US dollar in Africa, the place where immigrants were always welcome, the gateway to the United States, the place where Ghanaian nationals felt at home and lived becoming part of us, the place where Africans were always welcome– what happened to these now refugees could happen to just any one country or to any other African in our unstable world today.

Having said this, let me get down to the real issue.

Is it true that some of the refugees who are angrily striking out against the option to assimilate into the Ghanaian society or be returned to their homeland of Liberia have also reportedly prevented their own children from attending school and food from being distributed? Sad, isn’t it?

But isn’t it too late for any strike or demonstration against a country that has kept them alive in its borders all these years? This is not to say that life has been the most wonderful for them in the camp. In fact, here are some quotations of visitors to the camp and a petition drive for your review of conditions:

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—–A Petition For Increased Involvement of the UNHCR on behalf of the refugees in Buduburam Camp, Ghana — http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/buduburam/

“...While formal labor statistics are not available, it is painfully clear that most of the camp’s residents have no consistent employment and rely on odd jobs such as transporting loads by wheelbarrow. Those individuals who have family members or friends abroad to send them money via Western Union are somewhat better-off. Living costs at the camp are quite high. For example: 2 euro per day per person for water (which may or may not be potable), 36 euro for a 25-kilo sack of rice.”

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“…Life on camp is difficult for the Liberians – its difficult for them to get jobs off of camp (Ghanaians are always appreciative that they’re here) and with 40,000+ of them its hard to survive. At meetings one of the main topics is always people worrying that people are literally starving here on camp, especially children. There is no running water or electricity on camp. People are super nice here but I’ve been asked a couple of times what am I doing here to help the people... “

“…The camp is dirty as santitation is a HUGE problem on camp but the people are just doing what they can to get by…

“…The Liberians all really want to go back to Liberia or of course to the States or Europe but they dont have the funds and back in Liberia they dont have anything to go back to – no home, no job, family scattered all over the globe or dead…”

—-“Welcome to Buduburam” November 19th 2007 by Danielle Welcome to Buduburam Refugee Camp (Web blog posting)–November 19th 2007 , a blog by Danielle_____

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Yes, conditions have not been great for the refugees. Anyone who has been a refugee knows that conditions for all refugees around the globe are never easy. The status of a refugee in many parts of the world means that you do not become a part of that country. You are set aside to hopefully be returned to your homeland or be resettled in a new place some day. For these Liberians, it has taken some eighteen years. Some others of course, joined them in the last few years, but for many of these refugees, the camp is now home. But to go on a demonstration and stop your children from attending school, to defy the host country’s laws, to demand payment in order to guarantee a return to your original homeland is a major mistake.

No matter how we take it, Ghana has done well by Liberians.

Ghana stood up for Liberia during the civil war, opened its doors to help Liberians fleeing to find a place to lay their heads, and despite the conditions of the camp, (which had more to do with the United Nations than with Ghana) it is about time that Liberians get out of the camps and return home. Those who have been offered sanctuary to settle in Ghana should take the opportunity instead of causing another war in another country. It is about time that Liberians stop complaining and move on. Many of us have relatives in that camp, and must do all we can to encourage them to move on when the opportunity comes up.

Other people who still call themselves Liberians are just tired of the names we have inherited from the war as a people. Yes, we know that there are many former combatants among the civilians. But hey, the war is over- okay, let those who do not want to fight live or move on-okay.

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