- Many refugee children living in Ghana do not have a birth certificate, including children up to 11 years old. As the "lack of identity" complicates ongoing repatriation efforts, in particular to Liberia, the Ghanaian Registrar of Births and Deaths has found a heavy workload in the refugee camps.
According to a report by the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, the lack of birth registration of refugee children over the years has turned into a problem of a big magnitude. Only in the Buduburam settlement, there are living 42,000 mostly Liberian refugees. Out of them, more than 18,000 are children.
- Many of the 4,000 born in the settlement have no official biographical document, even though some were born up to 11 years ago, Public Relations Officer of the UNHCR, Needa Jehu-Hoyah, reports from Accra.
The magnitude of the problem came to light when UNHCR started registering the Liberian refugees for voluntary repatriation a few months ago. The agency's staff were already aware that most of the newborn babies did not have birth certificates, but further probing revealed that for children above the age of one, registering their births required cash for the processing of affidavits – approximately the cost of eight meals – which the refugee mothers could not afford, Ms Jehu-Hoyah says.
- In response, UNHCR offered to pay the processing fee, and brought in the birth registration team and a commissioner of oaths to process the affidavits, she adds. Now, there is a visiting team from Ghana's Registrar of Births and Deaths, which has operated from a school building in the Buduburam camp since late October issuing birth certificates.
The birth registration had also been simplified by a separate refugee registration conducted between July 2003 and January 2004 that gave UNHCR up-to-date information on refugee families, including the children's biographical data.
- More than 1,000 children were registered on the first day, according to Ms Jehu-Hoyah. Mothers from the camps brought their babies and youngsters and queued to be registered as the pleasant news spread that the UN refugee agency would take on the costs.
The registration not only paves the way for voluntary repatriation to Liberia, but also gives refugees their fundamental birth right to an identity. UNHCR says it seeks to ensure that refugee children are provided with birth certificates to confirm their status.
- Apart from it being a human right, registration is the primary step towards providing an appropriate lasting solution to the problem of refugees, such as voluntary repatriation, resettlement in a third country, or local settlement, commented Thomas Albrecht, UNHCR Representative in Ghana, on the inclusion of registration in the agency's strategic directions in the country.
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