World Refugee Day 2022 - A visit to the Blue Oasis, a year on
20 June 2022
The Blue Oasis is a community centre for urban refugees established in June 2021. UNIC Accra visited the Centre and brings you this story on the Centre.
The Blue Oasis, a resource like no other. Located in the centre of the Greater Accra district, the Blue Oasis was established in June 2021 as a community centre for urban refugees under the urban program of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It has an ICT centre, a library, training rooms, conference centre and board room. All of these have been set up to aid refugees in their work search and for their skills development, livelihood activities, information exchanges and recreation. The centre is only a year old and according to the Administrator, Ms. Araba Ghansah, it is providing great service to users. “The centre is like an event centre where refugees come to for programmes, leadership meetings, English and ICT proficiency programmes, capacity building and training programmes, such as hairdressing, sewing, catering and the likes.
Deborah Lawson, a 21-year-old Togolese who has lived as a refugee in Ghana for the past 12 years, is a frequent client of the Blue Oasis. She uses the centre’s remedial class services to improve upon her high school grades. “I find this centre very helpful because without it, I do not think I would have gotten any classes to attend. Thanks to the UNHCR, we have been given a second chance to further our education”.
Another useful resource available at the centre is career counseling service. “As students, when we get to a stage in our education, we need someone to guide us to select our career or what we would do in the future. Some people do not get that chance but at this place, we have a career counsellor who guides us on career choice selection for the future” says Deborah, as she beams.
World Refugee Day is observed annually on June 20 and is an opportunity to honor and celebrate the resilience and contributions of refugees around the globe. The day also requires for us to intensify our advocacy for the right of refugees everywhere.
According to the UNHCR 2021 Global Trends report, the number of people forced to flee their homes has increased every year over the past decade and stands at the highest level since records began. By the end of 2021, those displaced by war, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses stood at 89.3 million, up 8 per cent on a year earlier and well over double the figure of 10 years ago.
Presently, Ghana hosts refugees from over 30 countries with some 13,695, constituting population of concern according to the UNHCR Fact Sheet March/April 2022. One of them is Abdulrahman Baoud, a 20-year-old Sudanese refugee in Ghana since 2016.
Abdul arrived in Ghana with his sister. Although his sister left him in Ghana, Abdul remained. He said the support he received from the UNHCR and the Christian Council of Ghana (UNHCR’s Partner organization) sustained him. With the support he received, Abdul was able to further his education from the Junior High School to Senior High School, and currently in his second year. Talking about the Blue Oasis, he said, “I have come for classes which was organized by the centre. We are here for the core subjects which are Mathematics, Science and English.” In Abdul’s words, “if it had not been for the centre that organized classes for us, I would be at home by this time doing nothing.” Considering how beneficial the classes have been to him, Abdul expressed his wish for more electives and other core subjects to be added to the courses offered. “The centre also offers skills training such as driving, sewing, makeup artistry. Students also have the opportunity to exhibit their products when there are events here” Abdul added. In his concluding comments, Abdul said, “So many people were in the house doing nothing and relying on UNHCR to give them money because they did not have jobs to do. Through this Centre, many of these people have been trained and can now make a living without depending on the UNHCR financial support.”
On World Refugee Day, as we focus on the global refugee crisis and the importance of refugees’ access to asylum, we are reminded of the right of refugees to seek safety – whoever, whenever, wherever. Nevertheless, the issue of refugees ought to be recognized from these three perspectives. First, it is a cardinal principle of international law that nobody should be forcefully returned to where their lives would be in danger – instead they should be given access to asylum procedures to ensure they are safe. Secondly, the consideration of non-discrimination in relation to refugees is important so as not to push people back to where their lives would be in jeopardy. Finally, the socio-economic integration of refugees involves their recognition as resourceful and skillful individuals who are capable of contributing to the local economy and not passive recipients of aid.
UNHCR works closely with the government of Ghana, principally the Ghana Refugee Board, in ensuring that refugees are able to enjoy their rights and access assistance and services. The Blue Oasis Community Center is a deliberate initiative to reach out to urban-based refugees who are scattered across vast areas, to ensure they are also assisted and informed about their rights and responsibilities. “Often you think of refugees as people who may not have skills or may not have education but that’s not the case. We have some highly educated refugees here and some with good technical skills” says Andrew Ginsberg, UNHCR Ghana’s Senior Durable Solutions Officer. Andrew notes that “we need to help these refuges support themselves, integrate economically into the economy of Ghana. So, one thing we are trying to do is trying to help them get internships, get jobs and also in some cases, complementary pathways, which is a type of immigration to third countries where that country requires specific skills.”
With the support received from its partners, UNHCR is keen to make the Oasis stand the test of time in the years to come. With only a year old, the Blue Oasis has become a household name amongst the refugee community and their hosts. The UNHCR Country Representative, Ms. Esther Kiragu says, “through the center, together with our urban implementing partner, the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), we will continue with the proactive outreach to as many partners as possible, both traditional and the private sector, to enhance the socio-economic integration of refugees in urban areas. It is important that they are meaningfully engaged so that they are not only able to cater for their own needs while in asylum, but that they can contribute to nation-building when they are able to return back to their home Countries in safety and dignity. This will ease their reintegration back home and make peace more durable.”.