Two months ago, officials in Ghana noticed refugees from Togo showing up at border crossings, fleeing from the escalating political tensions and the first reports of fatal violence next door. Now there are more than 500 Togolese who have been registered by Ghanaian authorities, and Benin and Burkina Faso are preparing for a possible influx too.
“This has the potential to become a new refugee issue in Africa and Togo’s neighboring countries are now quite worried about the development,” said Babar Baloch of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. “There could be potentially more refugees fleeing the political unrest in the country.”
Togolese say they’ve walked from their homes in Togo’s Mango region and into Ghana to escape human rights abuses tied to the recent political protests. Most of them are staying with host families or in community centers, and Ghana is providing humanitarian aid including food.
Some 30 asylum seekers are reported to be in northern Benin, and while their numbers are small there is growing concern that more Togolese may be coming.
Togo has been led by Faure Gnassingbé since 2005, after he followed in the footsteps of a father who ruled from 1967 until his death. After 50 years of the dynasty, opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam and his Parti National Panafricain (PNP) supporters say they want term limits enforced by constitution and a government that ensures human rights.
Gnassingbé’s government has said it’s open to reform, but there’s been little progress or action in negotiations. President Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana has reached out to offer help, as has President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire, who said he and other leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have expressed concern. The African Union, France and the United States also have appealed for peaceful reform.