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Ghana to legalise stay of 2,300 Liberian refugees

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Over 2,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana have indicated their willingness to remain legal residents of the country.

The Ghana Refugee Board (GRB) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have consequently registered 2,300 who want to legalise their stay in Ghana.

The registration followed an ultimatum given to the refugees by the UNHCR and the GRB in February this year, to decide whether or not to voluntarily return to their country of origin or legalise their stay in Ghana before March 30, 2012.

The action was informed by the decision of the international community to invoke the cessation clauses built into the 1951 UN Refugee Convention for Liberian, Angolan, Rwandan, and Burundian refugees in Africa.

The cessation clauses allow refugee status to end once fundamental and durable changes have taken place in the country of origin and the circumstances that led to refugee flight no longer exist.

The Programme Co-ordinator of the GRB, Mr Tetteh Padi, told the Daily Graphic that as of March 2, 2012, 450 of the Liberian refugees had voluntarily registered to be repatriated.

In an earlier interview the Public Relations Officer of the UNHCR, Ewurabena Hutchful, had stated that majority of the refugees had turned down the offer to be airlifted back to their homeland.

She pleaded with the government of Ghana to institute early measures towards reintegrating those willing to be naturalised.

But Mr Padi said the GRB was drafting a proposal to the Ghana Government to make decisions on the local integration policy or procedure that would apply to those who want to legalise their stay in the country.

Other GRB officials, he added, were counselling and collecting data from the refugees to make for an easier and faster facilitation of the project.

A total of 11,301 Liberians had registered with the UNHCR and the GRB as refugees as of the end of 2011. The number constitutes the largest population affected by the cessation invocation in Ghana.

Mr Padi said the reasons given by most of the Liberian refugees who wanted to legalise their stay in Ghana, was the fear of death when they went back to their country.

Others said they did not have enough belongings or property with which to start a new life in Liberia, while some other refugees contended that they were born in Ghana where they had lived since, thus, they would not know where to go to when they went back to their country of origin.

The invocation would be the legal end of the refugee status for Liberian, Angolan, and Burundian refugees on June 30, 2012, while that of the Rwandan refugees would end on June 30, 2013.

The international community deems it fit for the refugees to return to their countries, since the conditions that pertained in those countries at the time they left had changed.

In Liberia, for instance, there had been two successive elections and the war in the country has ceased.

Only 33 Rwandans and five Burundian refugees are currently registered with the GRB and UNHCR as refugees.

The UNHCR would assist only registered refugees to return home, therefore, those outside the registered list who would decide to return to their home country after the cessation, would not receive UNHCR support in their endeavour.

Source: Daily Graphic

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