The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has called on the government to cease the repatriation of Burkinabe citizens who are seeking safety and protection in the country.
It said the expulsions, which mainly involved women and children, amounted to violation of the non-refoulement principle and guaranteed access to the territory and asylum to nationals of Burkina Faso seeking international protection.
A statement issued in Accra yesterday said: “The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is concerned by the reports about deportations of hundreds of Burkinabe citizens, mainly women and children, who are seeking safety and protection in Ghana”.
Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle enshrined in international law, which prohibits the return of an asylum seeker or a refugee to countries where his life or freedom would be threatened.
The statement said UNHCR had been collaborating with the government of Ghana to support its efforts to ensure the protection of over 8,000 Burkinabe nationals who sought protection on its territory as a result of the ongoing conflict in their country of origin.
It said in the framework of this cooperation, a Reception Centre managed jointly by the Ghana Refugee Board and UNHCR, with a capacity of 4,000 individuals, had been inaugurated in the Upper East Region to relocate Burkinabe refugees away from the border for security reasons.
“Ghana has a long-standing history of upholding its international obligations towards refugees, and UNHCR stands ready to support the Government to address the needs of Burkinabe nationals fleeing the ongoing conflict,” it said.
But the Ministry of National Security has refuted media reports and publications that suggest a deliberate and targeted operation, spearheaded by the Ghana Armed Forces, to forcibly repatriate Burkinabe refugees from Ghana.
It said Ghana was committed to accommodating Burkinabe nationals who had been displaced into the Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana due to the prevailing security situation in southern Burkina Faso.
“The Ministry of National Security has taken note of media reports and publications that suggest a deliberate and targeted operation, spearheaded by the Ghana Armed Forces, to forcibly repatriate Burkinabe refugees from Ghana.
“The Ministry refutes such claims and wishes to state that Ghana is committed to accommodating Burkinabe nationals who have been displaced into the Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana due to the prevailing security situation in southern Burkina Faso,” a statement issued in Accra, said.
It said the ministry in collaboration with the Ghana Refugee Board and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had accordingly established a temporary reception centre in the Upper East Region, capable of holding an estimated 2,100 displaced people from Burkina Faso.
“Currently, 530 displaced Burkinabes are being accommodated at the reception centre.
Additionally, Ghanaian official entities ensure that the displaced persons have access to free food and medical care,” a statement issued by the Ministry of National Security last Thursday, said.
Moreover, it said as part of measures to enhance containment efforts, a 30-acre land had been acquired for the establishment of housing facilities to host displaced persons.
“Contrary to claims that displaced Burkinabes are being forced out of Ghana, a repatriation process has been instituted at the reception centre to aid the movement of Burkinabes who wish to return to their country.
The repatriation process is consistent with international protocols on the management of refugees and has so far been implemented in collaboration with Burkinabe Immigration Authorities along the Ghana- Burkina Faso border,” it emphasised.
While reaffirming its determination to safeguard the peace, stability and territorial integrity of the country and promote the welfare of its citizens, the statement said the government would continue to undertake the necessary operations without compromising values such as respect for human rights, including the rights of refugees and displaced persons from neighbouring countries.
For its part, the Executive Director of the GRB, Tetteh Padi, told the Daily Graphic that none of the people it had registered were being repatriated.
“As I said we have not had any report that the people (registered as asylum seekers) that we are dealing with are being repatriated,” he emphasised.
But he said information that the GRB had received suggested that some people were being repatriated “but we don’t know who those people are”.
However, he said, the board would try to find out who they were.