To demolish or not: Story of Buduburam Refugee Camp in retrospect

By Rachel Kakraba.

For more than 2 decades the Buduburam Refugee Camp, near Kasoa in the Central Region, has been home to some refugees from neighbouring African countries, majority of whom are Liberians. Peace has prevailed at this settlement until recently where traditional authorities say the increasing spate of crimes is enough reason to take back their land. Negotiations with the government they say have been fruitful. On August 3, 2021, the Gomoa East District Assembly issued an ultimatum to residents of the Buduburam Refugee Camp to vacate, before 30th September 2021 to pave the way for redevelopment of the area.

By this, residents and especially Refugees majority of who sought local integration into Ghanaian society, say they are on the verge of becoming homeless because the integration process was not completed. The Liberian Civil War was one of Africa’s most devastating conflicts, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million other citizens in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, including Ghana.

Paramount Chief of Gomoa Fetteh, Nana Abor Atta II, on whose land the camp is situated said the land was given out to the government in 1989 to help resettle Liberians who were fleeing Liberia’s civil war. He said it was a gesture towards another African country and it was at no cost to the government.

“In 1989 during the civil war in Liberia in a bid to fellow Africans, the then President Late Jerry John Rawlings consulted us for a parcel of land to resettle them.”

The Refugee Camp

The Buduburam Refugee Camp, according to residents, has demarcations otherwise known as zones which start from 1-9. Though leadership could not put out the total population because there has not been a census in recent times they were definite the numbers could be more than 2,000. The Camp could boast of social infrastructure such as schools, including that for deaf and dumb, women’s centre, police station, community centre, hospital, water and a recreational centre for kids. Some of these are today up and running today.

“Survivor Water” constructed by an NGO Point Hope is one of them. Former Welfare Council Chairman Varney Sambola explains it is not the only source of water serving the camp as the population is huge. Mr. Sambola said the water served some vulnerable refugees and hence the name “Survivor’s Water”.

“Point Hope gave the water to some vulnerable family members which they drank to survive saving their lives and to an extension the entire community.”

Proximity of the Buduburam Refugee Camp to the capital Accra has today seen it buzz with activities. From hair salons, video clubs, cinema, churches, temples and mosques, it feels more like a small town than a refugee camp. Sanitation of the area is not in the best of shape. Most of the buildings at the camp are dilapidated, GBC NEWS, spotted a resident busily patching up parts of his building to prevent it from an imminent collapse.

Criminal Activities at the Camp

The story has not been all that rosy, as the Camp has had its fair share of negative reportage usually over criminal activities. In August 2020, 30-year-old Kwabena Sakyi was stabbed to death in broad daylight by a suspected Cameroonian over suspicions that he is a Police informant at Gomoa Budumburam (Liberia Camp). There are also reports of armed robbery, theft among others in the area. This is what has today incensed traditional authorities to take back their land. Paramount Chief of Gomoa Fetteh, Nana Abor Atta II, says the eviction is mainly hinged on criminal activities ongoing in the area.

“The kind of activities going on at the Buduburam Camp is very appalling and does not bring honour and dignity to the land of Gomoa, Central Region and Ghana as a whole.”

Eviction notices have been pasted at all vantage points in the community, triggering another conversation. In December 2012, the Liberia refugees officially ceased being refugees following the return of peace to their country. However, the majority of them who continue to live at the camp are those who sought local integration. An ad hoc task force established within the framework of the UN Country Team, to engage government on post-repatriation-related issues is the Ghana Refugee Board. Executive Director Tetteh Padi, says the board currently has some 350 refugees who opted for local integration. He added refugees in good standing would be relocated and the demolition must not be assumed as eviction of refugees.

“The Liberians officially ceased to be refugees at the end of December 2012, so it’s not a case where refugees are being evicted, we have a few refugees about 350 or so Liberians who are still refugees, we will provide alternative shelter.”

Reaction of Chairman of Liberian Community

Chairman of the Liberian Community, Dennis Gwion is unhappy about the assertion by Mr. Padi. For him, the numbers are more than 350. He added local integration packages which included housing, was never completed, and wants the process to be revisited.

“You’ve got refugees here, you told us we will be relocated to somewhere else, since 2013 up to this present we are still here.”

General mood of former refugees at the camp

For many of the former refugees who say they opted for local integration in December 2012, the future looks very bleak. Many of them say they opted for integration into the Ghanaian society because they do not have families back in Liberia due to the civil war. For some others, their love for Ghana has over the years grown deep. They say they are forever grateful for the Ghanaian hospitality and want the issue handled tactically to prevent any unfortunate incidents.

“We thank the Ghana government for making our stay here for a longer period of time. We are not angry with the government for wanting to carry out development of this area. The UN needs to take a step to resettle us or find another place for us.”

“I don’t have anywhere to stay when I go back, that’s why we chose integration.”

“When we chose local integration we have been here, we’ve been waiting for them come and climax.”

“Demolition cannot be stopped but if I had my own power I will appeal to those who want to do demolition to see if they can extend the time for us.”

“I love Ghana, I have three children here, one Ghanaian, one Liberian, and one Nigerian”

Ghanaians living at the Camp

Interestingly, although it is perceived as a Refugee Camp and one expects residents to be all foreigners there are some Ghanaians who live at the camp. They pleaded for an extension of the ultimatum.

“My mother is a Ghanaian and I was very young at the time we came to live at this Camp. I have lived here all my life and think the ultimatum is very short.”

“My son is about to write BECE and I have nowhere to stay for my son to complete school. We are pleading with authorities.”

“My name is Lydia Osei Mireku I am from Kwaku, my husband is a Liberian, and my children are Liberians, that’s why I live here on the Camp. I can’t move away from where Liberians are.”

That aside, there is another group of people who say they have purchased land in the area which is not part of the Camp and consequently should not be included in the demolition but have also been served eviction notices. They explained when the Camp got full in 1992 there was still an influx of Refugees. They, therefore, contacted a chief, now deceased Nana Kwesi Hia, who leased the land to them. The area they said is zone ten, otherwise known as “Manntse mannkabi” They added on return of peace to Liberia majority of the refugees left which led to them purchasing parcels of land from the said Chief.

“This place is zone ten, otherwise known as “Mannte mannkabi” this is the boundary and it is not part of the Camp.”

“Some of us have documents to back what we talking about, let us put on record we did not rush here to pick lands.”

For these persons Paramount Chief of Gomoa Fetteh, Nana Abor Atta has advised they visit the paramountcy for a resolution. He was quick to add that without such a move they could lose their property to demolition.

“We have not received any official document from anyone and so people with such concerns must immediately come for the issue to be looked into. Failure to take such steps will see their properties demolished together with all the others.”

Conclusion

The UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR in its Global Appeal report 2008-2009 indicated that Ghana hosts the largest refugee population in West Africa, with a population of 40,000. 24,000 of this number are Liberian refugees who live at the Buduburam Refugee Camp, an urban settlement established in 1990 near Kasoa in the Central Region. For now, it is unclear exactly what the land at Buduburam Camp and its environs would be used for.

However, projects such as a major bus terminal, housing, school and market are being considered. What is however clear is for the traditional authorities to work assiduously to erase the bad image which the Refugee Camp has brought to the entire Gomoa Traditional Area. The Ghana Refugee Board, the Ministry for the Interior, UNHCR, the Liberian government and its Embassy in Ghana, as well as other relevant stakeholders, must act proactively to prevent any unfortunate incident.

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