The United Nations refugee agency is rushing aid to about 3,500 Ghanaians who have fled into neighbouring Togo after their homes and belongings were destroyed in an ongoing land dispute between two villages in the northeast of the country.
Togolese authorities have provided emergency food and other forms of assistance since the refugees began arriving in mid-April, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today, but the Ghanaians still need water, food, shelter and medicines.
About 3,500 refugees have crossed into Togo in the past six weeks and they are now sheltering in four villages in the Savane region, UNHCR spokesperson Andre Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
The group includes many children, pregnant and lactating women, elderly and handicapped people, and some are suffering from malaria or diarrhoea, sparking concerns about possible disease outbreaks.
UNHCR said its first emergency aid convoy left the Ghanaian capital, Accra, yesterday morning, loaded with blankets, mats and cooking sets. It will take nearly three days to reach their destination in northern Togo.
Another convoy is set to leave in the next few days, carrying hundreds of tents, jerry cans, mosquito nets and cooking sets. The convoys are designed to transport enough assistance to sustain the refugees for the next three months. Educational materials will also be provided.
Mr. Mahecic said the agency and Togolese authorities had identified a new site further away from the Ghanaian border where the refugees " who already outnumber local residents of their host villages " can be transferred.
This move will help to improve security and alleviate the pressure on the scarce resources of the host communities and free the public buildings presently used as shelter by refugees, " he said.
As the refugees include residents of both villages involved in the land dispute, UNHCR is trying to identify a second site in Togo so that the opposing groups can be separated. In the most recent clashes houses in both villages were pillaged and destroyed and belongings were set on fire.
We hope that the Ghanaian refugees will be able to return to their villages as soon as the conditions allow, " Mr. Mahecic stressed.
But this is not the first time this year that Ghanaians have fled into Togo in search of shelter. In March about 300 villagers crossed the border because of the same land dispute before returning home within a few weeks.