afrol News, 16 June - Some 180 Liberians have been stranded off Benin for over one week on a ship coming from Monrovia. UN agencies suppose the Liberians are refugees, but have still not obtained permission to enter the ship by the Beninese government.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, yesterday urged the authorities in Benin to allow UNHCR workers access to some 180 Liberians on board the 'Alnar Stockholm' coming from Monrovia which has been stranded off West Africa for more than a week. The ship is currently anchored off the shore of Benin waiting for permission to dock. "UNHCR insists on access to the group to establish whether it includes refugees in need of international protection," the agency's spokesman Kris Janowski said at a press conference in Geneva yesterday.
- Although the exact status of the passengers is not yet clear, UNHCR is concerned that at least some of the Liberian nationals could be refugees under the 1951 Convention and their cases should be heard, said Janowski.
Last Sunday, the ship was allowed to dock in Ghana where Ghanaian citizens, as well as some Nigerians and Sierra Leoneans, were allowed to disembark. However the Liberians were turned away because they did not have proper travel documents. Neither UNHCR nor the Ghanaian Refugee Commission were able to access the group of Liberians, before the ship was ordered to leave the harbour of Tema, east of Accra. UNHCR expressed its concern in a letter to the authorities.
Ghanaian Minister of Home Affairs, Alhaji Malik Alhassan Yakubu, told a national radio station, Radio Ghana, that the passengers were turned away because they were illegal immigrants. "We have a situation where, sometimes, you have people coming through unapproved routes. They have all ways of entering, and then, you have on your hands people who claim to be refugees. And if you look at the factors which make somebody a refugee, you find that that is not the case," the minister said.
The head of the UNHCR liaison office in Accra (Ghana), Adama Wuri, however, considered the war situation in Liberia could be creating another wave of refugees. She told Ghanaian media that the Liberians on board the ship, which docked at the Tema Port at the weekend, might have been fleeing from the war situation. "Whoever might have left Liberia and boarded that ship might have been running away from a situation of insecurity," Wuri said.
Beninese government officials have been careful not commenting the affair. "One is very careful after the Etireno affair," captain Guéou, a responsible in the Cotonou harbour told the French news agency AFP, referring to the scandal ship Etireno, carrying child slaves earlier this year. The 'Alnar Stockholm' supposedly carries 79 children among its 186 passengers.