The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, has told Parliament that government has no option of returning the former Guantanamo Bay detainees because they were granted refugee status under the Mahama government in July 2016.
According to her, the agreement signed between the government of Ghana and United States of America indicated that, while the US has no obligation to the detainees after the initial two-year agreement, Ghana has the responsibility to integrate the two into the Ghanaian society.
The two detainees of Yemeni nationality, Mahmud Umar Muhammad Bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih Al-Dhuby, who were in detention for 14 years after being linked with terrorist group Al-Qaeda, were brought to Ghana in January 2016, for a period of two years.
“The government at the time granted the two detainees refugee status. This followed a request by National Security to the then-Chairman of the Ghana Refugee Board. They were issued a decision letter dated 21st July 2016, recognizing their status as refugees,” Madam Ayorkor Botchway narrated to Parliament on Wednesday.
The Minster explained further that “the implication is that, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951, and the 1967 protocol on the Status of refugees as well as the provisions of the Refugee Law (1992) PNDC Law 305 (d) of Ghana, the two have attained the status
of refugees in our country.”
She noted that the essential component of the refugee status in Ghana “is protection against return to a country where a person has reason to fear persecution.”
“Accordingly, government is constrained to explore any further options at this time, and will await an in-depth examination of the matter by the appropriate agencies,” Madam Ayorkor Botchway added.
Minority ready to cooperate
Meanwhile, the Minority Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, assured government the Minority will cooperate in finding a lasting resolution to the matter.
“I get the impression that the honourable Foreign Minister is asking for more time for the government to decide. We can assure them that we will be willing to work with them so that we can find a permanent solution to this matter. We will engage in politics that you can be assured its not opportunistic, and will be in the national interest as we find a permanent solution to this matter,” Mr. Ablakwa said.
Possible stay after expiry
Per the statement released at the time from the then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hanna Tetteh, on January 6, 2015, the government did not explicitly state that the former detainees would necessarily have to leave the country after the agreement expired.
The statement said the two may leave the country after the two-year period, suggesting the decision was in their hands.
“At the request of the US Government, we have also agreed to accept two detainees of Yemeni origin who were detained in Guantanamo but who have been cleared of any involvement in any terrorist activities and are being released. They are unable to return to Yemen at the moment and we have indicated our readiness to accept them for a period of two years after which they may leave the country,” the statement said.
The move to host the two in the country was criticized by many observers including the then-in-opposition New Patriotic Party, who described the two as a security threat despite assurances to the contrary by the US.
Two citizens; Margaret Bamful and Henry Nana Boakye, further sued the former Attorney General and the Minister of Interior contending that the two were being hosted illegally.
The two were justified by the Supreme Court, which declared as unconstitutional the agreement between the Mahama government and the United States.
The apex court ordered the government to send the agreement to Parliament for ratification or have the two detainees sent back to the US.
According to the judgment, the government needed the approval of Parliament before entering into any international agreement, just as in the case of the two detainees.
When the matter came up for discussion in Parliament, the House was informed that the agreement was reached under a note verbale and Memorandum of Understanding.
A note verbale is a piece of diplomatic correspondence prepared in the third person and unsigned. Parliament subsequently ratified the agreement for the two for detainees to be in the country.
An International relations analyst, Dr. Vladimir Antwi Danso, wants government to take immediate steps toreturn the two former Guantanamo Bay detainees to where ever they came from.
“They were given two years to stay in Ghana, and the two years have elapsed, what next. And for me they have to leave the country. They must be made to leave by the tenets of the agreement. And agreement tells how its termination can be. So I don’t see why this thing cannot be done, because if they are not made to leave, the security implications are dire,” he told Umaru Sanda on the Point Blank segment on Eyewitness News on Tuesday.