After more than two decades in Ghana, some Liberian refugees will soon board planesbound for home.
This first step in repatriation comes after the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reported the West African nation’s political climate has stabilized and placed a time-line on the status of Liberians abroad. In Ghana, most of these people live outside Kasoa, near Accra, in a camp called Budumburam. Most are excited by the news but not all are planning to leave.
Martin is a forty-eight year old father of two. He and his wife escaped Liberia after armed men besieged and burned his parent’s house. His forearms are still marked with a series of small circular scars. “I got them that day. They are cigarette burns,” he says, while rubbing the bubbled marks dotting his skin. He says, his family was targeted at the outset of the chaos. “My father was a high-ranking security force official. I escaped many I knew didn’t.” He has established roots in the camp and visited Liberia only once. He says he has no interest in returning, “I’ve been away too long. My children were born here and we are staying.”
Others have a more hopeful outlook on life after Budumburam. “This place is no good for children,” says Emmanuel, while cradling a toddler in his arms. He was a boy when he, his mother and older sister came to the camp. “We were some of the first here. My son has never seen his home. Now that there is peace I will show him.”
In 1989, the first asylum seekers arrived at Budumburam. Their country decimated by military coups, tribal violence and the sparks of a ruinous civil war. Originally, the area was a temporary shelter and the people were slated for re-location. However, the mass and speed of migration made finding sufficient space nearly impossible.
Charles assists in the daily operation of the camp. He says the location has always been contentious. “If you look at Kenya they (refugees) are nowhere near the Capital. Here, there are too many people in a small-small area. It’s no good for security.”
Now, the UNHCR is preparing to close the camp and is counseling residents on the options available. The first 45 take off on Friday Feb. 24, followed by the same number on Sunday. A plan for all must be in place before their refugee status expires June 30.