As violence flares in Burkina Faso, refugees trickle into Ghana

Salimata Kali, an asylum seeker from Burkina Faso in Ghana, is still searching for her husband after violence flared up in their hometown [Ernest Kodjo Ayikpah/Al Jazeera]

Salimata Kali is still looking for her husband, six months after she was forced to flee Zoaga, a small town in southern Burkina Faso near the border with Ghana.

She fled because of communal violence.

The Burkinabe army had been providing security after an initial flare-up, she says, but tensions had erupted over chieftaincy issues, with rival groups laying claim to the local regency, and the bloodshed looked like it was set to return. That’s when she decided to run away with her children.

“When the conflict happened, my husband ran away and until now, I don’t know where he is,” Kali told Al Jazeera through an interpreter.

She is among hundreds who have fled to Bawku West in northeastern Ghana this year amid rising violence.

Kali is keeping up hope but others fear the worst.

The violence left a trail of destruction, according to the asylum seekers, as houses were burned and livestock and grain were stolen.

“I lost a lot. Donkeys, cattle, foodstuff, uncountable … My son was also killed and, because of the violence, I could not bury him in the village. I heard I was next to be killed so to save my life, I had to run here,” said Ouari Botzabit, an elderly man.

While locals and asylum seekers estimate the number of arrivals in Bawku West at around 700, the Ghana Refugee Board told Al Jazeera it has been able to account for just under 300.

But in recent weeks, a different group of Burkinabes have arrived in northwest Ghana – more than 1,000 people, according to the refugee board.

The latest arrivals have also reported violence at home but unlike the group in Bawku West, they are yet to be granted asylum-seeker status as security checks are carried out.

In total, Ghana hosts about 13,500 refugees and asylum seekers, the refugee board says.

In Bawku West, Kali’s group has found safety under the watchful eyes of military personnel from Ghana’s armed forces. But life is hard. The local areas where they have settled are struggling to cope with the influx.

“If you have two rooms, you offer them one. But because of the huge numbers, some of them have to sleep outside at night,” says John Akugre Anyagre, an assemblyman for the area.

Sleeping outside exposes refugees to diseases such as malaria and as the rainy season begins, experts fear for their safety. Without documents and money, the new arrivals cannot access Ghana’s national health system, which would cover treatment and medicine.

The government of Ghana, local chiefs and the UN refugee agency have been able to provide irregular food aid but more permanent shelter is yet to arrive. 

“The two key things now are shelter and food and we are going to provide assistance in that direction,” said Tetteh Padi, programme coordinator for the Ghana Refugee Board.

Rising insecurity

Asylum seekers’ testimonies fit into a wider pattern of insecurity in Burkina Faso.

On Saturday, gunmen attacked villages in northern Burkina Faso, killing 15 according to Cheriff Sy, defence minister, who blamed “armed terrorists”, according to the AFP news agency.

In April, more than 60 people died in intercommunity clashes in the north of the country.

The Burkinabe government says armed groups are exploiting existing community tensions as part of an expansionist move

Since April, there have been at least four reported attacks on churches in the country, killing 18 worshippers and two priests. No group has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

In May, four hostages were rescued by French troops that are now operating across the Sahel region.

More than 400 people have been killed in attacks since 2015 – according to a tally by the AFP news agency, which reports that at least 1,000 people have found refuge inOuagadougou, the capital.

Refugees trickle into northern Ghana

Ghana hosts about 13,500 refugees and asylum seekers [Ernest Kodjo Ayikpah/Al Jazeera]

Western governments have warned their citizens against visiting the country’s north, with the UK’s foreign office advising “against all but essential travel to the rest of Burkina Faso, including the capital Ouagadougou”.

Insecurity is stirring unease in neighbouring countries, and concerns deepened earlier this month when a Burkinabe man, allegedly armed, was arrested in a Ghanaian church near the border.

Local media in Ghana reported the arrest of another Burkinabe man, also believed to have been armed, days later in a border town.

And earlier, in May, Ghana’s port and harbour authority confirmed that two Ghanaian truck drivers transporting goods were shot near the Mali-Burkina Faso border.

Prior to these incidents, security agencies had met with leaders of the Christian community to discuss how to protect places of worship.

Free movement is among the key principles of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West Africa’s regional bloc.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, David Eklu, Ghana’s police spokesperson, said: “There are combined efforts with sister security agencies to prevent any terrorist activities in Ghana with the police in the lead.

“The goal is to deter, detect and disrupt any terrorist activities within Ghana and around our borders. We are also raising public awareness on personal security to make Ghana an unattractive destination for such activities.”

For now, long-standing ethnic ties have seen the asylum seekers warmly welcomed in Ghana’s north.

Refugees trickle into northern Ghana

Ouari Botzabit, an asylum seeker in Ghana, lost his son in violence back in Burkina Faso and was unable to bury him in their home village [Ernest Kodjo Ayikpah/Al Jazeera]

Source: Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu, Al Jazeera

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