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Liberia’s civil war refugees left destitute after decades-old Ghana camp demolished

Buduburam, Ghana

Sitting on a tattered mattress amongst the rubble of his former home, Wendell Elijah Mallobe is one of 15,000 Liberian refugees left destitute after authorities in Ghana demolished the camp where he has lived for more than 30 years.

“I don’t know anybody in Liberia. Nobody. They burnt the village I was living in,” said 55-year-old Mallobe, who arrived in the camp in 1990, after fleeing Liberia’s civil war. “My bed, television, clothes – everything I have worked for is gone.”

People visit demolished homes at the Buduburam Refugee Camp in the Gomoa East District, Central Region, Ghana, on 4th March, 2024. PICTURE: Rruters/Francis Kokoroko

More than 200,000 people were killed and thousands more were mutilated and raped in brutal civil wars in Liberia between 1989 and 2003.

Though the UN ruled in 2006 that it was safe for refugees to return home, many, traumatised and without connections, remained in the so-called Liberia Camp in Buduburam, about 45 kilometres west of Ghana’s capital, Accra.

But last week, under the orders of traditional authorities who own the land, demolition of the camp began. By Monday, a large part of the site where the once bustling Liberia Camp had stood for 34 years was reduced to concrete rubble.

Only palm trees remained standing. Residents picked through the wreckage of their destroyed, once brightly painted houses to salvage belongings as bulldozers ploughed on around them.

In the nearby Point Hope Basic School, women, children and the elderly slept on improvised beds. Patrelizas Prowd and her one-month-old niece shared a mattress with another refugee.

“The cold, the mosquitoes, and the surroundings make her uncomfortable,” Prowd said of the baby. “In the afternoon, the place becomes too hot and she cries.”

She had lived in the camp since 2003. Like the thousands of others in Buduburam, Prowd and her family made the nearly 600 kilometres journey on foot, by bus and boat to safety in Ghana. Some were rescued by UN peacekeepers from the forests of Ivory Coast, which lies between Liberia and Ghana. Many of the camp’s residents were born there.

Prince Kamua, 20, said he had not been able to return to school since the demolition, which left him with only one book and the clothes on his back. He hopes to become an author, but fears his sudden homelessness will jeopardise his education.

A spokesman for the Gomoa Fetteh Stool, the traditional chieftaincy that owns the land, said the operation would continue until the entire site is cleared.

Displaced settlers take shelter at a local primary school as homes are demolished at the Buduburam Refugee Camp in the Gomoa East District, Central Region, Ghana, on 4th March, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Francis Kokoroko

Liberia Camp ceased to be classified as a refugee shelter in 2012. Since then, the landowners have made several attempts at demolition. Tetteh Padi, executive secretary of the Ghana Refugee Board, a government body, said the board had lobbied to delay its demolition.

Only about 3,000 of the estimated 15,000 Liberians in the camp hold valid refugee status, Padi said, but efforts were underway to re-register the others for potential relocation to another camp in Ghana.

Dennis Gwion, the camp’s leader, said homeless residents were struggling to get enough food and said lives could be in danger.

“If there is a country that will take us for asylum, we will go,” he said.

– Additional reporting by FRANCIS KOKOROKO and THIAM NDIAGA


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