Buduburam UMC Seeks Help to Repatriate Liberian Refugees from Ghana

Buduburam UMC Seeks Help to Repatriate Liberian Refugees from Ghana

Reporting and photography by E. Julu Swen

Hundreds of undocumented Liberian refugees in Ghana have appealed to the Buduburam United Methodist Church in Ghana to assistance in repatriating to Liberia. The group approached BUMC because of the eminent security threat they are facing because of the upcoming General Elections in Ghana.

BUMC Leadership including Rev. James Kaifunbah in the front roll 2nd from left
BUMC Leadership including Rev. James Kaifunbah in the front roll 2nd from left

According to BUMC Pastor, Rev. James Kaifunbah, the group made the appeal to the church because of its initial plans to repatriate undocumented Liberians from the Liberian refugee camp in Ghana. He said this group of Liberians missed out on the United Nations 2010 Cessation Clause on Refugees Status. “The UN gave us three options at the time; voluntary repatriation, local integration, or exemption from the first two options,” he explained. The UMC clergyman also noted that when the UN Cessation Clause on Refugees Status ended in 2014, hundreds of Liberians missed out on the process. “Some of them were far from the camp, while others applications were denied by the UN,” Kaifunbah asserted.

Rev. Kaifunbah further indicated that because of the upcoming election in Ghana, the resident status of all of the Liberians still living in the camp and in other parts of Ghana is being verified by security personnel. “I am not sure what the government of Ghana or the security of Ghana will do to these Liberians as a result on being here without proper documents,” he lamented.  He pointed out that the lack of official documents in Ghana made many Liberians including some of his church members vulnerable to any form of arrest be it political or security.

Asked if he was ready to return to Liberia, Joseph Torh, a Liberian refugee who has been in Ghana since 1990 simply said, “I want to go back home.” As a founding member of the Buduburam United Methodist Church, Torh said when the Bishop John Innis of the Liberia Episcopal Area visited the camp and discussed plans to seek help to get them out of the camp many Liberians were happy. “Even those who are not United Methodists were now looking up to the church for this repatriation effort, but their hope is now dwindling,” he emphasized.

As someone who did not succeed at any of the UN 2010 Cessation Clause on Refugees Status, Torh and several Liberians including members of the BUMC are now looking up the United Methodist Church to help repatriate them to Liberia. “We have hope in the ability of the UMC to get us out of this refugee camp in Ghana,” he concluded.

For his part, the pastor of the Buduburam UMC, Rev. James Kaifunbah said the visit of Bishop Innis was timely and a God-destined event in the life of the church. “His message inspired us to keep the faith in the face of adversity as we live in this strange land.” In a telephone interview the pastor confirmed that BUMC members and other Liberians were facing challenges in Ghana and it was now time for them to come home. The Bishop’s request for us to return home and the role of the UMC in helping will be the best thing that will happen to any of us in the refugee camp,” Rev. Kaifunbah concluded.

In March 2015, Bishop Innis in collaboration with the leadership of the BUMC initiated a plan that would help members of the church and other Liberians to return home after long years of refugee life in Ghana. Torh confirmed that process of members and other Liberians who are willing to return home to Liberia started, but halted because of the slow respond from the Liberia Annual Conference and the global UMC. “We are willing and ready to go if the UMC assists us in getting out of this country,’ he affirmed.

Buduburam United Methodist Church at the Liberian Refugees Camp in Ghana
Buduburam United Methodist Church at the Liberian Refugees Camp in Ghana

Established in 1993 to serve and minister to the needs of the many Liberians, especially United Methodists, the Buduburam UMC is still surviving and ministering to the needs of Liberians documented and undocumented up to date. BUMC was greatly supported by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), but that support stopped when the last two missionaries left in 2008. The missionaries are Rev. Precilia Jaiah now assigned to Liberia and Rev. John K. Yambasu (now Bishop John K. Yambasu).

When the Charles Taylor led rebel war reached central Liberia and everything stopped working, many Liberians fled to countries within the West Africa sub region leaving all their belongings behind except their religion and denomination. For the United Methodists who fled to Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire the existence of the United Methodist Church in these two countries kept their worship experience alive. For those who fled to Guinea and Ghana, the story was different as there was no established United Methodist Church in these countries. In Guinea the Diecke United Methodist Church was established and so was the Buduburam United Methodist Church in Ghana.