Ivorian refuges living in Ghana have expressed concern over harassment, arrest and subsequent imprisonment of a number of them who have returned to their motherland.
he refugees made their concerns known in Accra during a visit by the Ivoirian Government Delegation led by Madame Mariatou Kone, the Ivorian Minister for Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Victim Compensation.
Members of the delegation include staff from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Abidjan; staff from Ivorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ivorian Refugee Agency (SAARA - Service d’Aide et d’Assistance aux Réfugiés et Apatrides en Côte d’Ivoire) as well as representatives of several Ivorian ministries - Interior/Security, Education, Youth and Employment and Defence.
Other members of the delegation were Mon Seigneur Touabli, Catholic Bishop of Agboville, as well as two former Ivorian refugees in Togo who voluntarily returned to Cote d’Ivoire.
The refugees asked the ivorian Government to grant amnesty to them, free all political prisoners and embrace media freedom.
Other concerns were the state of former refugees from Ghana who are alleged to be imprisoned upon their return to Cote d’Ivoire, frozen financial assets of Gbagbo’s sympathisers and the full report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The refugees asked to be acknowledged as refugees who have forcibly fled their country and not as persons who were on a self-imposed exile.
As part of efforts to register their displeasure at the way the Ivorian Government was handling the situation the refugees carried placards with inscription such as “We (refugees) cannot go back home, while our parents are still in prison in Ivory Coast. Tell Ouatarra to free them” and “There is no freedom in Ivory Coast.”
It took the timely invention of Ghana’s security agencies to calm the refugees amidst shouts of “Gbabo! Gbabo! Gbabo! Long Live Gbabo! Long Live Gbabo! Long Live Gbabo!”
Although the visits of the Cote d’Ivoire delegation to the two refugees camps at Egyeikrom in the Central Region and Ampain in the Western Region could not take place, the Accra meeting afforded a number of Ivorian refugees the opportunity to voice out their concerns and grievances towards their authorities, and more importantly, to initiate a first step toward dialogue and reconciliation efforts.
Despite the heckling and booing, Madame Kone managed to bring total serenity into the meeting by singing the Ivoirian National Anthem, which inspired most of the refugees to rise up and join her in singing in unisome.
After getting their attention, Madame Kone, explained that the purpose of their visit was to afford the Ivorian Authorities the opportunity to update their compatriots about the new developments, which had occurred in their country since their exile, so that they would be in a better position to make informed decisions about their future.
She apologised to the refugees for the unpleasant situation they find themselves in and urged them to return home and contribute to the socio-economic development of their motherland.
She said President Alassane Dramane Ouattara has being re-elected and sworn in for a second term of office, and that the President is appealing to all Ivorian refugees to return home.
Madame Kone said, she was once a refugee in Ghana during the Ivorian crisis; adding that the security situation in the Ivory Coast had normalised now, and that the economy is doing very well.
Dr Kofi Anani, the Executive Secretary, Ghana Refugee Board, said the visit by the Ivorian delegation would further cement the fruitful relation between the two countries.
In Ghana, the total number of Persons of Concern (PoC) to UNHCR at the end of 2015 was 19,265 comprised of 17,406 refugees and 1,859 asylum-seekers from over 25 different countries of origin.
Most refugees have been in Ghana for at least five years, with the most recent major influx being that of Ivorian refugees in mid-2011; the remaining refugees arrived either in the 90s or early 2000s.