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UN Officials, Activists Express Regret over Problems with Liberian Refugees

U.N. officials and human-rights activists are expressing regret that the situation of Liberian refugees in Ghana has deteriorated. Ghanaian police arrested and moved away dozens of women Monday after they had staged several weeks of protest outside the Buduburam refugee camp near Accra. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, Needa Jehu-Hoyah, says the mass arrest is the type of situation officials were trying to avoid.

"I think it is unfortunate that not much headway has been made, especially since the tripartite meeting we had with the refugees and the ministry of interior on 11th of March," she said.

The UNHCR is offering refugees $100 for each adult, and $50 for each child to resettle in Liberia.

The deadline for this program is the end of June.

Refugees who were protesting have said they want to be given $1,000 before going back to Liberia or to be resettled in Europe, and even get free schooling.

Jehu-Hoyah from the UNHCR says refugees must understand none of this is possible.

"UNHCR has already informed the community variously, including with the resettlement countries, that resettlement is not an option, that is available for Liberian refugees right now," she added. "Regarding the $1,000 for each individual, UNHCR is simply not in a position to pay that kind of money."

She says Liberians in Ghana must also understand they will not be refugees forever.

"Eventually, inevitably, assuming all things progress positively as they are doing in Liberia, there will come a time, when the stakeholders will decide that the Liberian refugees no longer need refugee protection, that will happen, but at that time, there will be various things going on," she explained. "I do not think it will happen overnight, it is a consultative process."

A human-rights activist, Tuinese Amuzu, went to the Buduburam refugee camp to check reports made by the refugees that they were mistreated during Monday's mass arrest.

Police say these were done peacefully, and that the refugees were arrested, because they were violating Ghana's public law order. They say they will be tried through Ghana's court system.

Whatever happened, Amuzu finds it unfortunate it has come to this.

"We appear to be too much in a hurry to just send our brothers back to Liberia," he said. "I think that will do more disservice to ourselves than to any other person."

There are an estimated 40,000 Liberian refugees in Ghana, even though the Liberian war ended in 2003. Many say they lost everything and are afraid to go back to a country where they believe there is still ethnic persecution.