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Ghana-Togo: 15,000 refugees but no camps needed

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ACCRA, 26 May 2005 (IRIN) - Private homes, community buildings and boarding houses in eastern Ghana will continue to host more than 15,000 refugees from Togo, unless conditions inside the country deteriorate to the point where more flood across the border forcing the government to set up tents, officials told IRIN.

"As of now, the situation does not merit the establishment of camps in Ghana for Togolese refugees," said Edwin Barnes, chief director at the Interior Ministry.

Refugees have been streaming relentlessly out of Togo to neighbouring Benin and Ghana, ever since Faure Gnassingbe, a son of Gnassingbe Eyadema, the country's ruler for almost four decades, was announced winner of a 24 April election the opposition said was rigged.

Diplomats say more than 100 people were killed in clashes that erupted following his election. Refugees and human rights groups, who put the toll at several hundred, say security forces and militia are continuing to crack down on suspected opponents of the new head of state.

More than 33,000 people have fled Togo in the past month and 15,111 have registered in Ghana, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

"Most of these people are living with relatives," Barnes said on Wednesday. "They have been integrated into the local communities. But should conditions in Togo worsen, we and the UNHCR have already identified possible camp sites."

UNHCR official Needa Jehu-Hoyah told IRIN that the flow of refugees from Togo to Ghana stopped several days ago.

However, Benin, Togo's neighbour to the east, has appealed for US $6 million to cope with an influx of almost 20,000 refugees and new arrivals are continuing cross the border.

The situation is much less serious in Burkina Faso, which borders Togo to the north. A group of 33 exiles from Togo had turned up this week asking for help, Evelyne So, an official of the National Refugee Committee in Ouagadougou, told IRIN.

UNHCR said that in Ghana, most of the homeless have been integrated within 16 local communities strung along a 400 km stretch of the border running north from the seaside town of Aflao. This adjoins the Togolese capital Lome and has seen a particularly heavy influx of people.

A high-level African Union delegation flew into Ghana this week to assess the situation and described the accommodation provided for the exiles as unique.

"It isn't a normal refugee situation where you'll find people in a huge camp," Msuya Mangachi, Tanzanian Ambassador to Ethiopia and a member of the AU delegation, told a press conference on Wednesday. "Most of the people we saw were being taken care of within the local communities," he added.

"This situation," he added, "is very unique and particularly humane."

The AU team offered Ghana US $30,000 to assist the refugees.

In Aflao the AU delegation met the Paramount Chief, Togbui Amenya Fiti V, whose traditional jurisdiction extends into Togo, including parts of western Lome.

"We are appealing to the big men and organisations to help solve the problem in Togo," UNHCR quoted the traditional ruler as saying. "When there is peace in Togo, there is peace in Aflao. Aflao is a melting pot for regional trade in West Africa."

"We speak the same language," he added. "They are our neighbours so it is a matter of course that we have to accommodate them. They would have done the same."

The Togolese refugees in Ghana have received some emergency food and relief items from the Ghanaian government, UNHCR and partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP).

UNHCR said its operations in Ghana aim to bolster the capacity of local communities to care for an expanded number of people.

"We do not have an emergency here in Ghana but a situation that is well managed. UNHCR will continue to support the refugees as well as reinforce the capacity of the local health facilities to take care of the increased numbers within the communities," said UNHCR country representative Thomas Albrecht.

The last time there was a major influx of Togolese into Ghana was in 1993 when about 150,000 refugees fled across the border to escape political violence at home.

According to officials of the Ghana Refugee Board, only 10 percent of them registered to stay at a refugee camp which was set up at Klikor, about 20 km west of Aflao. The camp was closed several years ago.

[ENDS]

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