Hundreds of refugees from Darfur trek to Ghana
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They came into the spotlight for the first time this week when a group of 180 refugees from Darfur briefly occupied an unfinished building on the outskirts of the capital Accra.
Most of them had arrived in Ghana in small groups since January.
"I fled Dafur in May last year, after my village was attacked and completely destroyed," said 33-year-old farmer Omar Mubarak, who comes from Ambrow district near the town of Kutum. "Some of my family members were killed. I do not know where the rest are. I finally left Sudan in September, " he told IRIN.
"I and my compatriots decided to come to Ghana because we hear it is peaceful here," Mubarak continued. "People claiming to be immigration authorities in the other countries have harassed us. In Togo, for instance, some Gendarmerie extorted monies from us."
Mubarak said he was hassled by the local authorities in Nigeria, where he had initially hoped to stay, and he had deliberately passed through Benin and Togo, because he could not speak their official language, French.
He and a few of the other Sudanese refugees who occupied the half-buillt offices of Ghana's National Bureau of Local Languages on Tuesday were able to speak halting English.
But most of the refugees from Darfur who gathered there only spoke Arabic and local Sudanese languages.
All gave harrowing accounts of their flight from Darfur before officials of the UN refugee agency UNHCR moved them on to a refugee processing centre at a secret location in eastern Ghana on Thursday
Mubarak Alchek, a 28-year-old man whose left foot was amputated after he was injured during an air raid on his village, said he left Sudan through Chad in January last year.
Alachek said he hitched rides on horseback and rode on top of trucks carting goods through the countries he passed through. He finally arrived in Ghana on 11 April via Togo.
"We need protection. We need food and medicine. We do not have money," his English-speaking friend Mubarak told IRIN. "Some of our people are sick, some have been mugged, we do not know anyone here and we are seeking asylum because we have no where to go,"
Before Mubarak and his compatriots came to the attention of the Ghanaian authorities by invading a government building, they had been living in the open without access to clean water and sanitation facilities.
"We are facing an unusual situation because the group is so large. But together with the Ghana Refugee Board and the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), we have began moving them to a temporary camp," Jane Muigai, a protection officer of the UN refugee agency UNHCR told IRIN on Thursday.
"We are giving them food and medical assistance. Depending on the authenticity of their claims, they shall remain at this temporary camp until we finally process and resettle them." she added.
UNHCR officials said a further group of 200 refugees from Chad had already been granted refugee status in Ghana and had been settled at a camp in the west of the country.
Ghanaian officials said it was is too early to say if there the influx of refugees from Darfur would continue on a large scale.
"They do not come in bulk. All this time they have been coming in small groups," said Kwabena Asomaning, NADMO's Chief Disaster Control Officer.
Most of those who fled from Darfur since the conflict began there two years ago have remained at refugee camps in eastern Chad.
A UNHCR headcount in March put the total number of Sudanese refugees there at 193,000.
But conditions are tough in these overcrowded camps on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, where food and water are often in short supply. Some of the refugees have obviously decided to move on further West in search of a better life.
International relief workers fear a fresh exodus of refugees from Darfur into Chad if the conflict continues.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said earlier this week that it was making contingency plans for an extra 150,000 refugees from Darfur to flood across the border in the coming months in the fighting continued.
According to UNHCR estimates, Ghana currently hosts about 48,000 refugees, most of whom are Liberians.
Thousands of the Liberians have been going home since their country's 14-year civil war ended in August 2003, some spontaneously, others under the auspices of a UNHCR voluntary repartriation programme which began in October last year.
There is still a Liberian refugee camp at Buduburam, 45 km west of Accra.