Accra, March 11, GNA - Government on Tuesday said it had initiated a consultative process with relevant stakeholders to invoke the cessation clause for the Liberian refugees under the International Refugee Convention to end the protracted demonstration of Liberian refugees at their settlement.
"Government will not allow a group of refugees to destabilize the Buduburam settlement and will use the full rigours of the law to deal with the issue should the refugees persist in this illegal action," Interior Minister, Mr. Kwamena Bartels told a press conference in Accra after a closed-door meeting with some of their leaders.
He was reacting to the mobilization of women, children and the elderly to demonstrate in support of a petition the refugees have submitted to UNHCR, Geneva.
Other concerns of the Liberian refugees are that they do not want to be integrated locally into Ghanaian society; they want to be resettled in a Western country and payment of 1,000 dollars to each refugee opting for voluntary repatriation.
Mr Bartels said their demands were misplaced and without merit pointing out that, "Ghana is not holding any refugee hostage and they are free to leave the country".
He said government had not decided to integrate them locally and has no intention of doing so adding that, their statement of not wanting to resettle was an insult to the country.
"Ghana was good enough for them when there was war in Liberia but Ghana is not good enough for them now. This shows their crass ingratitude to a country that has protected them, fed them and given their children free education."
Mr Bartels said refugee status was not granted indefinitely and that the Liberians were granted prima facie refugee status at a time when they were fleeing a civil crisis under the 1969 OAU Convention governing the specific aspect of the refugee problems in Africa. "No refugee was granted status on account of fear and persecution."
He said neither Government nor UNHCR determined resettlement, adding that, it depended on the willingness of the recipient country. Mr Bartels noted that USA which was the largest recipient of Liberian refugees had indicated that it was no longer willing to process new cases of Liberian settlement and that those who wanted to do so were to request to countries they wished to resettle in, rather than using innocent children as tools to achieve their goals.
On demands for the payment of 1,000 dollars each before they returned home, Mr. Bartels explained that between 2004 and 2007 the refugees received a paltry five dollars as transportation money upon their return home but he as head of a government delegation at the executive committee meeting of the UNHCR in October 2007 made a
strong case for an increase to 100 dollars which become a reality in December 2007.
Government, he said, viewed the action of the refugee as a breach of goodwill given them by Ghana in their time of need and recalled that in 1995 when the ill-fated "Bulk Challenge" ship was drifting helplessly along the West Coast and no country wanted to receive them it was Ghana which came to their aid and offered them refuge.
"Today, these people have forfeited the goodwill of Ghanaians and their government," he said. "I'm sounding a final warning to all refugees living in this country to obey the laws of the land and we shall ensure that they do. Let me repeat that the demonstration at Buduburam is illegal and is a breach of the Public Order Act 1994."
UNHCR Representative in Ghana, Ms. Aida Haile Mariam said her outfit condemned the disturbances at Buduburam refugee settlement and noted that as much as refugees had the freedom to express their views and disagreements they must be within the confines of the law.
According to her, UNHCR Ghana initiated a series of meetings to inform and explain the various aspects of its programmes to the refuges but its efforts did not yield satisfaction.
A group calling itself "Women with Refugee concerns" decided to go on a demonstration, which has disrupted the delivery of some services including medical emergencies to the most needy in the camp.
"UNHCR believes that many have been coerced, manipulated, threatened and intimidated to join the sit-in protest," Ms. Mariam said.
She added that resettlement to a third country was no longer an option and that UNHCR was not in a position to pay 1,000 dollars per person.
According to UNHCR, Ghana hosts some 40,519 refugees, 26,967 of them being Liberian refugees.