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Thousands of Liberians Remain in Refugee Camps in Ghana

Three years after peace was restored in the West African nation of Liberia, tens of thousands of refugees remain in camps in neighboring countries. VOA's Nico Colombant went to one of these, the Buduburam Camp, in southern Ghana.

Here, up to 60,000 Liberians are crammed along these dirt streets. Many adults have been here since 1990. It looks like a little Liberia. One difference, though, there is electricity.

Most children go to schools right outside the camp. They seem to be the only ones enjoying themselves.

There is a languid and heavy atmosphere almost everywhere. Usually, refugees make pleas for help, but at Buduburam, they ignore outsiders. They also seem embarrassed by their condition.

The informal mayor of the camp is Varney Sambola, a refugee himself. He helps a young man who is trying to enter a school in Ghana's capital, Accra. It seems most refugees have no intent of going back to Liberia. Sambola says despite recent elections, refugees are waiting to be sure the government will be able to help them start a new life.

"A nation where everyone is going to be equal, a nation that will be able to govern in a unique way, a nation that is going to be free from all sorts of atrocities, that caused us to come here,” says the camp’s mayor. “[A government that will ensure] a better future, that would make Liberia to be sustainable, a better future that would make Liberia to be self-sufficient. That is the better future that I am talking about."

Enoch is 21. He has been here for five years. To make a little money, he has become a freelance barber. He says his clients, other refugees, pay him whatever they feel like paying him. He says his life here is desolate.

"The camp is just so hard because you know we find some difficulties in the camp, like (finding) water, food, and things like education. I suffer on my own to pay my own school. Since three years now, I have been out of school, because of money," says Enoch.

He lives in a house with his two little brothers. They get a bit of food from the United Nations.

But conditions at the camp are difficult, trash lies everywhere, open sewers run through passageways. Most people complain of recurrent bouts of malaria, typhoid, and yellow fever.

Enoch would like to go school, to give him some sort of future, better than this, but he says he doesn't have money. Among his odd jobs, he also works at the camp's shoe factory. The hand-made shoes are sold outside the camp, where some refugees try their luck, but usually they do not last very long.

For now Ghana's government has not decided anything, and they will stay here, at least in the short-term. Like many others, Enoch is hoping to get a visa through special programs to go to the United States or elsewhere, but he does not feel like going back to Liberia.

"Going to Liberia is not a dream,” Enoch told us. “[Because] what is there? Because I do not have anything in Liberia, a house, nothing at all. There is nothing I have in Liberia now."

For these children, who have known little else, it seems their parents will let them languish here, until they are forcefully removed.

All images by Nico Colombant