Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Ghana

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Ghana, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

GHA figures


Ghana hosted some 40,500 refugees and asylum seekers, with 115 new arrivals. Liberian refugees, numbering 28,000, were the largest group, who began arriving nearly 17 years ago during the Liberian civil war. Around 12,000 Togolese sought asylum in Ghana because of political violence in Togo in 2005. There were also about 600 Sudanese in Krisan camp.

Following the Liberian presidential election, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began repatriating Liberians. The Government said it would consider naturalizing the remaining Liberians but by the end of May, only some 5,000 had accepted the offer.

After finalizing a tripartite agreement with the Governments of Ghana and Togo in April, UNHCR began repatriating some of the estimated 12,000 Togolese refugees in Ghana in September.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement.

In late 2007 and early 2008, Liberian refugees demonstrated for an increase in UNHCR's repatriation allowance from $100 to $1000 per adult. In March 2008, authorities raided Buduburam camp, detained 600, and deported 16.

In the camps, 34 refugees reported instances of sexual assault and rape, while at least 14 children suffered physical abuse. Community pressure to cover up assaults by fellow refugees deterred many victims from reporting crimes but, when they did, authorities took action against perpetrators, sentencing one to ten years in prison.

The Ghana Refugee Board granted refugee status prima facie to Togolese as well as to Liberians who had arrived prior to the inauguration of Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2006.

Ghana was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, all without reservation except to the Protocol's dispute resolution provision. The 1992 Refugee Law granted refugees rights under all three instruments and prohibited their refoulement. It recognized refugees under both Conventions' definitions and any group the Government determined to be refugees. The law established the Refugee Board to screen applicants, on which UNHCR had an observer role. The Government allowed nongovernmental organizations to sit on the Board as well.

The law required asylum seekers to apply to Immigration Services, the police, or UNHCR within 14 days of arrival, though the Board could allow extensions. The Board had to consider applications within 30 days, and personally interviewed applicants from outside western Africa or those suspected of being former combatants. Denied applicants had 30 days to appeal to the Minister of Interior but could remain in the country with their families pending the outcome, and three months beyond to seek entry elsewhere. The Refugee Law required the Board to issue applicants written notifications of its decisions, but did not require it to provide any reasons for those decisions. Asylum seekers had the right to counsel at their own expense.

The 1992 Constitution (amended 1996) extended to "every person in Ghana" its fundamental individual rights, including life, dignity, and protection from torture and slavery, freedom of movement, and the right to work. It did, however, allow the Government to pass laws restricting the rights to own property and free movement for foreigners and allowed limitation of the right to work for national security reasons.

Detention/Access to Courts

Ghanaian authorities detained some 35 refugees and asylum seekers because they had engaged in criminal activity, some proven, and some alleged. UNHCR monitored two prisons in 2007 and early 2008 and noted that 11 of the refugees had been accused but not yet tried. Fellow detainees severely beat and sexually assaulted them. In March 2008, Ghana detained hundreds of Liberians after protests at Buduburam camp.

The Refugee Law prohibited the detention or punishment of asylum seekers for illegal entry or presence, but authorities could detain refugees without documentation. The Law mandated that refugees should receive identity documents and residence permits, but only 90 asylum seekers received registration numbers and not all received identity documents. Authorities generally respected UNHCR-issued identification cards.

In January, UNHCR and the Board began a three month verification program in Buduburam to determine the number of Liberians there and issued new biometric identity cards to residents. In November, UNHCR specified that cards issued in 2003 were for registration purposes only, and did not entitle holders to claim refugee status or to receive benefits.

Refugees legally had access to courts but rarely found them effective and generally used traditional dispute resolution mechanisms instead.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Although the law authorized the Interior Minister to establish an area for refugees, they were free to choose their residence. Most of the refugees lived in the Central, Western, and Volta regions. Ghana had two camps, Krisan (population 1,400) and Buduburam (population 26,000), but generally did not require refugees to live in them. An estimated 6,000 refugees lived in the Volta region.

The Constitution allowed the Government to restrict the movement of foreigners, but the Government did not hinder the movement of most refugees. Refugees from member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) could also freely travel within other member countries. Refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, and Rwanda, however, could not. The Refugee Law provided for the issuance of international travel documents to refugees, but not asylum seekers. The Passport Office issued them to refugees who could prove that they had the means to travel or an offer of employment requiring travel. Refugees working in the formal sector received such documents with work permits stamped in them.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Despite the Refugee Law's provision for refugees to enjoy the right of work, it was very difficult for refugees to do so legally. They had to have a sponsoring employer and apply for the permit through the Board, which would then ask the Immigration Service for the work permit via the Ministry of Interior. This process usually took three to six weeks, sometimes ten, and most employers were not willing to wait. Companies could also acquire work permits on behalf of refugees, but had to pay a fee and there were quotas on the number of foreigners they could employ. Many refugees worked in the informal economy without labor protections or social security. Others engaged in small commercial activity inside camps, as in Buduburam camp. Many female camp residents worked in the sex trade. Children worked long hours, pushing wheelbarrows for camp shopkeepers.

Unless they had Ghanaian partners, the law treated refugees as foreigners, and they could open businesses limited by guarantee once they had a mission statement and could fulfill tax requirements.

The Constitution allowed restrictions on non-Ghanaians' economic activities.

Refugees could own movable property and open bank accounts but the Constitution categorically barred foreigners from any freehold interest in land or any lease greater than 50 years. Nevertheless, several legal residents leased land for 99-year periods. In Buduburam, some refugees leased property from Ghanaians on build, operate, and transfer agreements.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR provided food aid only to refugees in Krisan camp and to about 8,000 targeted refugees in Buduburam. Some 400 refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas also received short-term assistance ranging from one to six monthly payments of around 500,000 cedis ($50). Togolese refugees in the Volta Region had access to government hospitals and clinics.

UNHCR provided free primary school education for almost all refugees, and some continued on to secondary school, but many of the camp schools were substandard.

The Constitution restricted to citizens its requirement that the Government provide education and social security. The Refugee Law called for the establishment of a Refugees Fund to aid refugees.

Aid groups had to register with the Government but generally had access to the camps. The National Development Planning Commission did not include refugees in its 2005 Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy II (2006 – 2009) that it prepared for international donors, except to identify them as a "public safety and security" issue. Government efforts to adopt a National Youth Policy did not include refugee youth as part of the process. Under the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account, the Government developed a plan that could potentially benefit refugees involved in the agricultural sectors, but it did not specifically include or aim to assist them.

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