Cablegate: New Unhcr Representative Outlines Challenges in Ghana

Published: Mon 1 Feb 2010 07:43 AM
DE RUEHAR #0087/01 0320743
P 010743Z FEB 10
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: New UNHCR Representative Outlines Challenges in Ghana
Ref: Accra 70
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: UNHCR's new Representative in Ghana, Sharon
Cooper, has significant experience working with Liberian refugees
and implementing local integration programs. Cooper plans changes
in office strategy for broader and more proactive engagement with
the government of Ghana, particularly in pursuit of local
integration for the remaining Liberian and Sierra Leonean
population. While UNHCR plans to invoke the cessation clause for
Liberian refugees worldwide in 2010, the GoG currently lacks a
strategy to handle the over 11,000 Liberians who will lose their
group refugee status. Engaging the GoG on this issue remains a
major problem, as the Chair of the Ghana Refugee Board remains
vacant, and the GOG remains reluctant to make fundamental decisions
regarding the status of the remaining refugees. END SUMMARY.
UNHCR -- New Representative, New Approach
2. UNHCR Representative Sharon Cooper arrived in Ghana in October
2009, replacing Representative Aida Haile Mariam (who is now
Representative in Cameroon). Cooper was previously Senior
Protection Officer in Liberia working with the return/reintegration
of Liberian refugees, internally displaced persons and Sierra
Leonean refugees. She told RefCoord December 9 that she intends to
refocus office strategy to become more proactive, cultivating
additional GoG contacts beyond the GRB, and focusing on the concrete
practical issues that would be needed to implement local
integration. She is examining Ghanaian laws impacting integration
and refugee protection and will prepare an analysis of the gaps
between Ghana's refugee and immigration laws to present Ghana with
written information and recommendations. She is seeking to improve
coordination with other UN agencies and development organizations so
that refugees are included in development plans and local
communities benefit from projects to support refugee integration.
3. Cooper also intends to expand public information activities, to
be implemented by the new Public Information officer, also
previously posted in Liberia. She is working to coordinate visits
from UNHCR regional offices, organize press coverage, and conduct
outreach sessions in the camps with concrete information about local
integration. The office will also work with NGOs and the media to
educate them about refugee rights.
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New Approach, but Old Problems: Liberians in Buduburam
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4. There are currently an estimated 11,924 Liberians in Buduburam.
UNHCR continues to draw down staffing and services and has ended
food distribution. They are turning over facilities in the
settlement (including the health clinic, schools, and a
newly-constructed police station) to local and national authorities.
Liberian refugees in Buduburam have access to free primary school
and access to health care through the Government of Ghana's National
Health Insurance Scheme (UNHCR is paying the enrollment fee). While
most assistance has ended, UNHCR continues to conduct skills
training and other programs to promote refugees' socio-economic self
5. The GoG continues to state that it intends to close Buduburam
Refugee Settlement and disperse the refugees; however it has no
operational or logistical plan to do so. The GoG has not yet made
fundamental decisions regarding legal status, social integration or
facilitating economic self-sufficiency for the refugees who have (in
the case of the Sierra Leoneans) or will (in the case of the
Liberians) lose their prima facie refugee status through invocation
of the "cessation clause."
6. UNHCR has told us that it intends to invoke the cessation clause
for Liberians during the 2010 calendar year. This means that those
Liberians who had been recognized as refugees on a prima facie basis
will lose their group status. The logistics and procedures for how
cessation will be implemented will be determined by GoG, in
coordination with UNHCR. In general terms, for a Liberian to retain
refugee status, the GRB would have to grant them an exemption from
the cessation clause based on a well-founded fear of persecution on
the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or
membership in a particular social group. Individuals with pending
exemption applications are generally treated as asylum seekers and
as such, would be protected from forced return until all appeals
were exhausted. Ghana's appeals system requires a decision by the
Minister of the Interior, which can often take years.
ACCRA 00000087 002 OF 002
7. To remain in Ghana in a non-refugee status, they would need to
go through normal immigration channels such as getting a student
visa or applying for a residence permit. Under current immigration
regulations for residence, an individual must make an exceptional
contribution to the country, have matrimonial or parental ties to a
Ghanaian national, have an employer willing to sponsor the work
permit, or have $10,000 invested in a business (for those who are
self-employed). While some Liberians may qualify on family grounds,
most would need to apply for a work permit which would require
employment in the formal sector comprising less than 20% of the
8. Post and UNHCR believe that it is unlikely there will be
progress in the immediate future. The Ghana Refugee Board,
dissolved by the Mills government in January 2009, has not yet been
re-constituted, nor has the GoG named a new chair. The GRB
Secretariat of permanent employees continues to conduct interviews,
but without a board there is no authority that can determine refugee
status. Furthermore, in the absence of a chair and a functioning
Board, UNHCR lacks a key interlocutor with which to discuss and plan
local integration. UNHCR officials tell us that they continue to
advocate with the GoG for the restoration of a functioning board.
Krisan Refugee camp "De-population"
9. According to UNHCR, the plan for Krisan remains to de-populate
the settlement through facilitating repatriation and third-country
resettlement and transfer responsibility to the GoG. The population
in Krisan (excluding those on resettlement programs and pending
departure) is 949 individuals. The population includes 332
Liberians, 118 Sierra Leoneans, 200 Sudanese (both Southern and
Darfuri), 259 Togolese and smaller numbers from Rwanda, Chad, the
Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Cote
d'Ivoire. As it has in past years, UNHCR Ghana fell far short of
their overall resettlement referrals target: in calendar year 2009
they referred only 59 individuals out of an anticipated 300.
Although UNHCR had determined that resettlement is the most
appropriate durable solution for the 200 Sudanese remaining in
Krisan camp who have no realistic prospects for return or local
integration, Accra RefCoord has received referrals for only 50 such
individuals this year. Cooper indicated that she intends to pursue
resettlement as a durable solution, and indicated that the remaining
referrals would be forthcoming.
10. (SBU) Ghana has been a good host to refugees during their time
of need, however, that time has passed. The key challenge for UNHCR
Ghana and GoG in implementing local integration for the Liberian
refugees is to operationalize a specific legal and socio-economic
plan before donor interest--and funding-- is exhausted. Cooper
appears to understand this challenge, and Refugee Coordinator
welcomes the change in the attitude and strategy of the UNHCR Ghana
branch office. However, the GoG's reluctance to make decisions
regarding refugees' status, exacerbated by the absence of a GRB
chair and board, will continue to preclude real progress in local
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