The Country Representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Mrs Esther Kiragu, has urged the government to integrate issues of refugees and asylum seekers into its national development agenda.
This, she said, would help boost the local economy, as most of the refugees and asylum seekers who come to the country were also people with viable skills needed for the economic development of the nation.
Mrs Kiragu said most refugees were people forcibly displaced and, therefore, did not leave their countries voluntarily, adding “it is important that they are included so that they are able to actualise themselves to build the economy where they are”.
Mrs Kiragu was speaking at the inauguration of a community centre for refugees in Accra as part of activities to commemorate this year’s World Refugee Day, which is observed globally on June 20, each year.
It is also a day to put the spotlight on the experiences of the millions of people who are forced to flee violence and persecution in their countries.
This year’s commemoration was on the theme: “Together we heal, learn and shine”.
Christened the “Blue Oasis”, the centre is fully furnished with a library, information and communications technology (ICT) and career and counselling facilities to help build the skills of refugees.
Mrs Kiragu said the centre was put up with the objective of promoting and enhancing the socio-economic integration and development of refugees by building their capacity in peace and leadership skills, in line with community-based protecting principles.
The centre will also serve as a venue for refugee meetings, functions and events.
Present at the ceremony were the Kenyan Ambassador, Mr Eliphas Mufendi-Banne; representatives of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Christain Council of Ghana, the National Catholic Secretariat and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.
The country representative said just as the sustainable development goals (SDG) advocate that no one should be left behind, development was equally about helping one another.
“COVID-19 has taught us that unless everyone is safe, nobody is safe. It is the same with development; if we leave a segment out and they cannot meet their needs, that inequality is what brings about problems of insecurity and other ailments and so it is about inclusion,” she added.
Mrs Kiragu, therefore, entreated the public to include forcibly displaced and stateless people in their communities.
She said the focus of the UNHCR this year was on health care, education and sports.
“Health care because we all need to fight the pandemic; education because of the millions of children whose education was interrupted by the pandemic and sports in honour of the upcoming Olympic Games and the power of sports to transcend language and nationality to bring people together,” Mrs Kiragu said.
She commended the government for helping refugees over the years, but said “there is more work to be done”.
The acting Executive Secretary of the Ghana Refugee Board, Mr Tetteh Padi, commended the UNHCR for the initiative, adding that his outfit, together with its partners, would intensify sensitisation activities to raise public awareness of the presence of refugees in communities and in camps.
“We will also work on refugees’ rights and responsibilities with respect to the laws of the country and societal norms. It is worthy of note that refugees continue to live in harmony with their hosts. We commend both hosts and refugees for cohabiting in peace,” he said.
Mr Padi, however, urged the public to make it a habit to visit refugee camps to assist them, adding that “nothing is too small; you will be impacting positively on the lives of refugees in ways that you may not have imagined. Refugees are people like you and me who, through no fault of theirs, find themselves having to seek international protection in strange lands and it behoves us to do whatever we can to make their lives a little bit more bearable.”