Liberia “Safe Enough” for Refugees to go back now

Who cares? I do. Our daughter Claire is in Ghana Summer 2014 as an intern. Her boyfriend (they met in college in 2012) came to the USA after three years in a refugee camp in Ghana. His family lost everything when they fled Monrovia during the Civil War.

While in Ghana, Claire got to see the Buduburam refugee camp where W lived for three years.  She took this photo (and all other photos posted here):

Opened by the UNHCR in 1990, the camp 20 years later is (or has been, or was) still home to more than 12,000 refugees from Liberia who fled their country during the First Liberian Civil War. (I don’t have today’s statistics.)

Camp life was no picnic.

“Even in refuge in Ghana they were huuuuugely discriminated against,” Claire wrote me from Ghana today via Facebook messaging. “Since the beginning Ghanaians have hated having refugees there. The Liberians are unable to find work outside the camp, because no one wants them there.

“When they were dumped there right after fleeing the war, the camp was a forest. The Liberians had to clear it and make a living for themselves strictly off what they could find on the small camp.” Children as young as age five gathered firewood to sell in the market to earn money for food. Claire’s boyfriend worked like an adult from age 5 to 8. He learned to garden, grow and cook his own food, and become autonomous while most kids have just learned to tie their shoes and have soccer-moms and dads tending to all their needs.

“Can you imagine being dumped in the middle of the woods and being told you can’t leave and you have to fend for yourself and provide for a family of 10?” Claire writes. “While living in a one-room shack with a dirt floor and nothing else? That is what they had to do. No belongings. They were so destitute.

“And every week people would burst into tears on hearing that a close friend back home was murdered in the war.”

Eventually, W and his family found asylum in the United States and most of them are now U.S. citizens. I asked her if he’d be willing to tell me about it.

“He doesn’t like to remember it,” Claire says. ” The refugees lost so many close friends and loved ones back home. For all of them it is a really hard subject to talk about and remember.”


As of Feb 24, 2011, Buduburam started deporting the remaining refugees. Someone is missing out on a brilliant career as a cartoonist. I’m amazed at the artwork on this wall:

“No one remains a refugee indefinitely,” and “the international community decided…that conditions back in Liberia were safe enough for those who fled the war [to return home],” according to GRB programme coordinator Tetteh Padi. “Every refugee situation must come to an end.”

Complete story here –my own excerpts are below.

BUDUBURAM, 3 October 2012 (IRIN) – Nathan Pajibo, like thousands of his fellow Liberians, has been living in Buduburam refugee camp near the Ghanaian capital Accra for over two decades after fleeing the civil war in 1990.

In June 2012 he lost his refugee status alongside 11,000 Liberians across the region and the camp will soon be handed over to the district assembly…

“If all your relatives were killed, the fear is there of returning, no matter who is in power,” Pajibo told IRIN. He said a lot of people at Buduburam, 44km west of Accra, remain traumatized by the war.

…President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said “Liberia has turned the corner” and is no longer a nation of war, fear, destruction and conflict.

(But) “If there is no war, why should we have peacekeepers in the country?”

…William Tarloe, now 32, was 16 when he fled his village in eastern Liberia after he witnessed fighters kill his father and try to rape his mother. The attackers spared him his life but stabbed his hand. “They told me they wouldn’t kill me but they would mark me,” he said. He found his sisters and mother in Côte d’Ivoire and they moved as a family to Ghana in 1998 due to insecurity on the Liberian-Ivoirian border. With no education, he mashes and sells cassava leaves to get by. “I want to go somewhere where I can rest my head,” he said.


A significant number of people in the camp have little choice but to stay as they have no identification cards or paperwork, said Padi. They had either returned to Ghana once they had been repatriated, arrived too late for the initial registration process, or arrived more recently to join relatives or find work.

…there are few opportunities to find work. Nowadays Buduburam no longer resembles a refugee camp but is like any poor Accra suburb, with dilapidated houses, and shops selling clothes and cheap Chinese goods.

The neighbourhood became associated with crime and lawlessness over the years and police carry out periodic raids to arrest criminals. An unregistered orphanage at the camp was closed down in June 2012 and its managers allegedly arrested for prostituting girls.

Even so, some prefer to stay on the sidelines of Ghanaian society than to return to the past. “All my children grew up here, and I have lived here for more than 20 years,” said ex-refugee Regina Johnson. “We want to stay.”

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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1 Response to Liberia “Safe Enough” for Refugees to go back now

  1. I’m so naive. I never realised refugees would have to fend for themselves in the manner that these people had to. It’s terrible…and what’s even worse is that these are the lucky ones, the people who managed to flee before being murdered.


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