GENEVA, August 4 (UNHCR) - The total number of Togolese refugees who have fled to neighbouring Ghana and Benin since April's contested presidential election has now reached 40,000, with over 24,500 arrivals registered in Benin and 15,500 in Ghana. Despite UNHCR's repeated appeals for funds, resources in both countries are now very over-stretched.
In Ghana, where refugees are staying in 114 locations along a 400-km stretch in the Volta region, UNHCR has been forced to freeze its assistance to the refugees and the local communities hosting them. Despite the pressing need to renovate shelter and sanitation facilities, all repairs of shelter, latrines and boreholes have come to a halt due to the lack of available funds. Other activities have also been suspended and UNHCR has had to decrease its presence throughout the Volta region.
The refugee agency nevertheless continues to assist the refugees in every way it can, notably in supporting local initiatives to open informal schools for Togolese children. UNHCR is donating notebooks, pens, pencils and blackboards for the schools. The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, is also fully supporting the initiative.
In Benin, UNHCR also faces the prospect of having to curtail its assistance to more than 24,500 Togolese refugees. Some 10,000 of the refugees are staying in two camps in Come and Lokossa in southern Benin, while another 14,500 are living with local communities, some further to the north of the country. UNHCR is currently assessing the impact of the presence of such large numbers of refugees living outside the two established camps in order to provide more targeted assistance, which will only be possible if more funds are made available.
"It is absolutely crucial that we get more money for this operation," said Michel Gaudé, head of UNHCR's West Africa desk. "Although the rate of new arrivals has decreased considerably, we have more than 40,000 people who need our help and already we are in a situation where we cannot properly assist them."
No new arrivals have been registered in Ghana since the end of May, while in Benin only about 200 people a week are now being registered. At the height of the crisis, shortly after the April presidential election results that were followed by violent street protests, Benin was registering several thousand new arrivals every week. However, the majority of the refugees in both Benin and Ghana say they are not able to return to Togo right now, because they still fear for their safety.
"The Togolese government has contacted us with a request for a voluntary repatriation operation for the refugees in Benin and Ghana," Gaudé said. "Of course we are considering their request. However, UNHCR has very strict criteria that must be met before we start voluntary repatriation, and one of these criteria is that the refugees must show a willingness to return. At the moment, we are not seeing that."
The UN refugee agency needs US$4.7 million to cater to the needs of all the Togolese refugees in Ghana and Benin, as well as to provide limited assistance to internally displaced Togolese. So far, UNHCR has received some $2.5 million, and has made an allocation of $1.5 million from its Operational Reserve to cover the immediate regional needs.