Ten Years On:  Buduburam-Kasoa Liberia Camp dilemma  

Ten Years On:  Buduburam-Kasoa Liberia Camp dilemma  

The unpleasant truth

JEEG Consult (a research Based Organisation for Students and Companies), having conducted several studies on refugees at the Buduburam camp, first of all shows the reality is that the Ghanaian government and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees- Ghana appear to hold opposing viewpoints on Liberian refugees’ potential to be self-sufficient. Because government is already stretched to meet our requirements as Ghanaians, it sees Liberian refugees as an additional economic burden and argues it is unable to help them.

The UNHCR Ghana staff, on the other hand, admit that the vulnerable refugees in Buduburam still require help; but believes, somehow, that the bulk of them are self-sufficient and capable of meeting their own requirements. The situation now is even worse, since UNHCR Ghana is unable to help even the most vulnerable refugees due to financial restrictions.

Second, most of Kasoa’s crimes can be traced back to Buduburam. Buduburam is said to be a hideout for criminals who cause havoc in the Kasoa area and beyond, due to the present condition of their settlement. This assumption has proven to be right over time, because most of these criminals are arrested by police at the Buduburam Camp.

However, the camp currently houses not just Liberians but also Nigerians, Ghanaians and other refugees.

As a result, it’s impossible to blame all of Kasoa’s murders and other misfortunes on the Liberian immigrants.

There have been numerous arrests at the camp, but in many instances none of those arrested can be considered to be Liberians. The present residents of the camp include not only Liberians but also Sierra Leone refugees, Nigerians and Ghanaians. One wonders what has to be done to substantially reduce tragic events in the Kasoa area.

Demolish the Camp?

Yes. However, a lot of interventions must be put in place and implemented to provide a better life for the 400 legally registered refugees who still wish to stay in Ghana due to the loss of their families in Liberia. In addition to this outlined intervention, those Liberians and Sierra Leone refugees who do not have their names included in the official refugee register should be offered voluntary repatriation aid.

Another area of worry for refugees is those with psychological difficulties, which must be taken into account to avoid influencing Ghanaians who may come into contact with them.

Therefore, the government of Ghana’s recent decision to demolish the settlement is a highly commendable decision. It will be extremely difficult to execute this decision in the future if it is not executed quickly. This is because the camp’s economic situation is worsening, and they will always find ways to meet their basic needs.

The point is that there are a lot of good Liberians in the camp, who are hardworking and God-fearing. However, given the present situation at the camp, some criminals believe it is a safer location to go and hide after a day or a month of criminal activity. The decent refugees are also scared of disclosing any information to the security services, since their personal safety may be jeopardised if the reported criminal information reaches the security services but is not treated confidentially.


Buduburam is a refugee camp that was established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1990.  It housed more than 12,000 Liberian refugees who fled their country at the time during the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1996) and the Second Liberian Civil War (1999–2003), as well as Sierra Leone refugees who fled their civil war (1991–2002). The camp was set up specifically to handle the influx of Liberian refugees who fled to Ghana.

Ghanaians, UNHCR and Government of Ghana’s assistances to the Refugees

During the crisis stage, Ghanaians played key roles in ensuring refugee survival.

Food, clothes and other essentials were supplied to the refugees by Ghanaian churches and compassionate individuals. The local community welcomed the migrants, provided transportation between the camp and Accra, and showed genuine care for their well-being.

Ghanaian ladies even prepared meals for the refugees until they asked for dry rations to cook by themselves.

In the area of education, an elementary school was built in the camp on the initiative of the refugees in October 1990, although it lacked sufficient resources. The UNHCR began assisting in conjunction with the Ghanaian government, with the Ghana Christian Council serving as the implementing partner in charge of supporting education at the camp.

It managed the construction of new classrooms, paid teachers their monthly allowance and supplied school materials regularly.

However, the refugees were largely left to run the school on their own.

Buduburam Secondary School, also known as BuduSec, was additionally established in 1996 after a Junior High School was built in 1991.

Generally speaking, Liberians and Ghanaians have often coexisted peacefully in the camp district. Intermarriage is a very regular occurrence. Furthermore, Ghanaians and Liberians trade with one another at a market set up by the refugees at the camp’s entrance. Both Ghanaians and Liberians have established enterprises in and around the camp, fostering economic development in what was previously a quiet agricultural community. In addition, the camp was administered by the National Mobilisation Programme (NMP) – a government body responsible for disaster assistance in Ghana at the time, and security was provided by the Ghanaian police.

In the area of health, about 3,000 refugees in the Buduburam settlement were enrolled in the national health insurance programme. The Ghana Health Service took over the Buduburam community clinic, which served both refugees and residents of the local community.

Anti-retroviral therapy was available at the time for HIV and AIDS patients.

Almost a thousand refugees were trained in a variety of professional skills, and refugee-managed training facilities were appraised and employed for the training programmes.

Those who passed the exams and gained certification were given start-up materials and equipment, as well as business management training to assist them to become self-sufficient and improve their living conditions.

The termination of refugee status and the removal of UNHCR’s support in Buduburam (Liberia Camp)

Buduburam Camp residents are like travellers waiting for a flight whose destination is yet unknown. Liberia conducted elections in 1997 which the United Nations deemed fair enough to allow for safe homecoming. As a result, the UNHCR stopped providing refugee aid to Liberians in Ghana, and the settlement lost a lot of assistance. Approximately 3,000 refugees returned to Liberia at the time. The majority of people opted to stay in Ghana, and the Buduburam village remained the heart of their society. The political situation in Liberia deteriorated soon after the 1997 elections, and new waves of Liberian exiles arrived in Ghana… settling at Buduburam.

Although the UNHCR limits its aid efforts in the settlement to unaccompanied minors, the elderly and disabled, the organisation did sponsor infrastructure work within the community; funding projects such as construction and education. Between 2000 and 2002, the UNHCR substantially curtailed aid to Liberians – forcing them to fend for and help themselves.

The UNHCR began pulling out of the camp in April 2007, slowly withdrawing all UNHCR-administered services. June 2010 was the official cessation of refugee status for refugees in the settlement. The government of Ghana in February 2011, through the Deputy Minister of Information, also indicated that Buduburam is no longer needed and that the inhabitants should consider returning to Liberia or settling elsewhere in Ghana.

Options are given to the refugees in 2012    

In January 2012, UNHCR announced the cessation of refugee status for Liberian refugees worldwide from the end of June 2012. At the beginning of 2012, the Liberian refugees living in Ghana were left with two options: either to repatriate by the end of June 2012 before invocation of the Cessation Clause or to remain in Ghana through an agreement that existed among the member-countries of ECOWAS.  ECOWAS is not a refugee-protecting body but a regional confederation of fifteen West African states, including both Ghana and Liberia, which was founded in 1975 to promote trade and economic integration across the region.

The sub-regional integration scheme was based on the 1979 Protocol on Free Movement adopted by ECOWAS, which confers on community citizens the right to enter, reside in and establish economic activities in the territory of any ECOWAS member-state. Since the late 2000s, UNHCR had been focusing on this scheme as an ‘innovative solution’ for protracted refugees in West Africa. Staff members of UNHCR Ghana believed that increasing refugees’ mobility offered a means of ensuring their enduring access to sustainable livelihoods and meaningful employment opportunities, by providing legal residency and better access to labour markets across ECOWAS countries.

At the end of June 2012, approximately 7,000 Liberians remained in Ghana and continued living in exile under the new label of ECOWAS migrants. Even though the Ghanaian administration officially announced closure of the Buduburam camp in 2012, most of these Liberian former refugees continued living inside the camp area; and in February 2014, almost two years after the cessation of their refugee status, Liberians remaining in Ghana were finally issued ECOWAS passports – which included a two-year work and residence permit.


As previously stated by the UNHCR, the work permits provided at the time were intended to allow refugees to relocate to areas where they might find suitable employment. But where will they be able to find that suitable jobs? Ghana has few job possibilities, and many Ghanaians are unemployed. Those with specialised credentials, such as physicians, nurses or computer specialists, may find the ECOWAS status beneficial. How many Liberians, on the other hand, have such technical skills?

Due to language problems in certain cases and a lack of employment opportunities, the issuance of work and residency permits alone has done little to promote integration of the remaining Liberians in Ghana.

Life at the camp has long been difficult for Liberians, especially since Ghana revoked recognition of their refugee status – and with it the humanitarian help they relied on a decade ago. The sole alternative to returning to Liberia willingly was to remain in Ghana under the ambiguous status of a migrant – a road many chose over the risk of returning; but it has kept them in limbo ever since, with few safeguards or guarantees.

Therefore, to avoid having this issue discussed in another ten years – possibly in a traumatic and deadly manner, I humbly suggest to government that the number of recommendations outlined under the unpleasant truth be taken into consideration (at the inception of this article).

The writer is with JEEG Consult (Into Research and Accounting Services) Associate Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ghana.

Email: [email protected]


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