New York, June 4, 2010 – The United Nations refugee agency is set to begin distributing assistance this weekend to some 3,600 Ghanaians who fled a violent land dispute in their country and crossed over into neighbouring Togo.
Four trucks loaded with emergency aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have reached northern Togo, where many of the refugees are currently being housed by local families in traditional huts.
According to the agency, refugees outnumber the host community two-to-one and many are living in schools and other public buildings or staying in tents provided by the Togolese authorities. UNHCR is concerned that the tents may not be able to sustain the approaching rainy season.
The agency is working with Togolese authorities to address continuing tensions between the opposing groups of refugees – who are from the Kombatiek and Nadongou villages in northeast Ghana – by moving them into two separate campsites.
UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said local authorities have made two sites, at Matougou and Gbadakungue, available to the agency and they are now being prepared for use.
“We expect them to be ready within the next four weeks. The refugees will be transferred to the new sites as the work progresses,” he told reporters in Geneva.
The refugees arrived in northern Togo between the end of April and the end of May, after fleeing clashes in which four people were reportedly killed and several injured, and hundreds of properties were destroyed.
“The accounts we’ve had from refugees speak of violent clashes, pillaging and torching of houses,” said Mr. Mahecic. “Refugees tell us the conflict has been brewing for three years and fear it will take time to resolve.”
This is not the first time this year that Ghanaians have fled into Togo in search of shelter. In March about 300 villagers crossed the border because of the same land dispute before returning home within a few weeks.
The Ghanaian Government sent a delegation to visit the refugees last week to encourage reconciliation, and to inform them of measures put in place toward this end.
The delegation also invited them to return and promised that the Ghanaian Government would rebuild the houses of those returning.
“While some refugees say they are willing to return as soon as they have proof of better security, most say they are not ready to go home,” Mr. Mahecic noted.