GHANA: Postponed deportations of Liberians over refugee status

Friday, April 11, 2008

The high court in the Ghanaian capital Accra on 8 April ordered the government to postpone a planned deportation of 22 Liberians claiming to be refugees being held at the country’s immigration office, just hours before they were due to leave the country in contravention of a previous government promise not to deport any more refugees.

The 22 Liberians, among them women and children, have been kept at a holding room at Ghana’s immigration headquarters since 31 March. They were among 600 Liberian refugees arrested and detained in recent weeks, following riots by refugees demanding repatriation to a third country or US$1,000 each if they were to return to Liberia.

The minister of state at the interior ministry, Nana Obiri Boahen, told IRIN that the government had chartered a plane with the intention of carrying the 22 back to Liberia on 8 April.

“[But] We are democrats, we believe in the rule of law so we will halt the deportation and allow their lawyers access to them and wait for the outcome,” the minister said.

So far 16 Liberian refugees have been deported. The government said they were not registered and did not have refugee status, a claim partly contradicted by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). It said only three of the 16 were unregistered.

According to Minister Boahen, the 22 Liberians set to be deported on 8 April were illegal immigrants not refugees because they lack the requisite documentation to prove their refugee status.

But a coalition of Ghanaian human rights organisations made up of the Legal Resources Centre and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said they have evidence to prove otherwise. The lawyers are expected to meet all 22 detainees between 9 and 11 March to gather evidence for a court hearing on 14 March.

The two human rights groups have already filed an affidavit in support of the suit at the high court on behalf of one of the detainees, Theresa Cheddah Dogbey, who the coalition says was a registered refugee with UNHCR in Accra. Her 10 year-old daughter Joetta Solo and husband both hold refugee identity cards and are at a refugee camp in Ghana, the coalition said.

The head of public affairs at the UNHCR office in Accra, Needa Jehu Hoya told IRIN that as far as the agency is concerned all registered refugees have been safely returned to the designated refugee camp at Buduburam, and the agency does not recognise the 22 detained at the immigration headquarters as refugees.

The head of the Legal Resources Centre, Edward Amuzu, told IRIN the coalition will be asking the court to free them all nonetheless.

Source: IRIN