A couple weeks ago, I scuttered through a human-clogged Kaneshie Market and jumped on the next tro-tro headed toward Buduburam.
A usual Thursday afternoon ritual, I was on my way to the Liberian refugee camp to help run practice with the girls’ Mapi-Topsa team.
As passengers waited patiently for the mini-van to fill up, the speakers blasted a news segment in Twi, the most widely spoken Ghanaian language. Suddenly, a young male passenger sitting at the front switched the radio channel to a hip-hop station.
A seemingly innocuous move, right? Wrong. Not a second later, and all hell broke lose.
Passengers that had been listening attentively to the news cried foul, a screaming match had erupted between the Ghanaians that wanted to listen to the news in their native Twi and the Liberian refugees who couldn’t understand Twi and, thus, wanted to listen to something in English.
A helpless onlooker to this unraveling, I began to wonder if there was an ulterior motive for the unusually heated commotion that was taking place.
At that very moment, the most vociferous of the Ghanaian passengers blurted out, “It’s not your property.”
The Liberian refugee that had committed the infraction scoffed at this and looked into the distance. A stiff and awkward silence gradually eased into the tro-tro as we headed off with the radio turned off. Not another word would be exchanged for the duration of the trip to camp.
The underlining message was clear: You have no rights to what is not yours. While referring to the radio, the passenger could just as easily been talking about Ghana in general.
Indeed, there has been recent fallout between Ghanaians and Liberians, stemming from a sit-in protest led by hundreds of Liberian women against the repatriation terms offered by the United Nations.
The demonstration, which lasted five weeks, ended with the Ghanaian government sending military and police forces to sequester approximately 500 protestors — mostly women and children. The protestors were held without cause in another remote camp until envoys from Liberia’s government arrived in Buduburam and publicly scolded the refugees for upsetting their hosts.
I happened to be on camp when the entourage of Liberian officials arrived with their expensive vehicles and armed guards. A sea of refugees gathered for the reprimand. Across the street, two large water tank vehicles were parked with police in riot gear watching most attentively at the unfolding events.
“Well, that’s not intimidating at all,” I said sarcastically to a Liberian friend.
It’s curious how a peaceful demonstration involving mostly women sitting outside the main soccer field day and night with placards soliciting more help from the UN had been blown out of proportion by the media.
The women were essentially protesting the $100 per refugee the UN was offering for going back to Liberia. They were attempting to voice their concern that such an amount would not be sufficient to survive in a war torn country where the unemployment rate is currently at 80 percent.
False reports of female protestors stripping naked and disrupting the flow of traffic, along with other outlandish claims, were circulated throughout by many Ghanaian media outlets.
These reports, undoubtedly, helped fuel much of the resentment and apathy most Ghanaians currently hold towards the refugees’ cause.
At the time of this writing, the women and children protestors detained have been released and are now back on camp. The Ghanaian government has forcibly deported an estimated 16 male refugees without cause — much to the disapproval of the UN and human rights agencies, and repatriation back to Liberia is currently underway.
Liberians at Buduburam are in a severe predicament — being faced with going back to Liberia and trying to survive in a war ravaged country where peace and stability are still fragile concepts or staying in Ghana where they are no longer welcomed.
Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.