Togo refugees fear reprisals if they return home
AGAME, Benin, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Togolese refugees who fled a clampdown on protests after a disputed election four months ago said on Monday they were too afraid to go home for fear of reprisals by security forces.
Around 40,000 Togolese have crossed into neighbouring Benin and Ghana since clashes broke out around the April 24 presidential polls, some refugees say soldiers sought out opposition supporters and beat them up in their homes.
"They put two or three people on you who follow you. They seize you in the night and you disappear," said Jeanine, 48, an opposition supporter who has lived in the Agame refuge camp just over the border in Benin since April.
"I can't go back because my life would be in danger. I was a campaign chief for the UFC (main opposition party)," she said.
Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe last week urged refugees to return home, saying they had nothing to fear and that he had released all of those who were arrested after the election.
He said no more people were leaving Togo, but the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says it is still registering around 200 people a week in Benin, compared with several thousand in April.
Togo spun into chaos in February when president Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled the former French colony as the archetypal African strongman for nearly four decades, died and the army named his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as leader.
Under international and domestic pressure, Gnassingbe called elections but the opposition said the vote was rigged and led protests when youths fought pitched battles against security forces in the capital Lome and elsewhere.
Witnesses said security forces rounded up and beat people in their homes. Togo's Human Rights League put the death toll at around 800 in the weeks after the election, although Western diplomats have said 100-150 people were thought to have died.
"As long as Faure is there, security will not return to Togo. He lies so people go back and he can harm them," said Jacques Yovogan, 22, a mechanic who fled the town of Atakpame where aid workers said at least eight people were killed.
"I have had no news of my family and I don't know if I will ever see them again," he said.
UNHCR officials say although security appears to be improving, it is the refugees' decision whether to return home.
There are currently 8,600 Togolese refugees in the camp at Agame, 40 percent of them children aged under 8 years and a third of them women.
Aid workers say few want to return. A notice was put up a few weeks ago asking those wanting to return to Lome to sign their names but was empty a week later.
"We will have to stay here in Agame for ever. If we find some fields, we will cultivate them," Yovogan said, after strolling round the camp in his yellow flip-flops, chewing a stick of sugar cane.