Gaga’s eye fill with tears as he watches the students in the high school courtyard laughing and joking together. His tattered and stained grey t-shirt looks drab next to the crisp mustard colored shirts the students inside had on.
“I’m embarrassed that I am standing here, when people I used to be in school with are inside moving on to a brighter future,” he remarks.
He looks down from the lens of the video camera; he’s embarrassed to be so upset in front of our documentary crew, so we stop rolling and give him a minute to recoup.
Our team—myself and ten Ghanaian journalism students—were at the Krisan refugee camp to produce a series of stories about refugee rights.
Francis Gaga is a 20-year-old refugee who lives in the Krisan refugee camp in the Western Region of Ghana. He can barely remember life in Liberia, where he lived before moving to Krisan 18 years ago. Gaga considers himself Ghanaian, but while he slumps against a wall outside the high school that many of his friends attend, he’s reminded of the opportunities he can’t afford as a refugee.
“I had good grades and I dreamt of being a bank accountant one day because I was good at math, but that dream stopped when I had to stop school,” says Gaga. “I’m scared I will be a useless person, with no skill and no opportunities.”
For young people like Gaga, life is a waiting game. He doesn’t know if his family will ever be resettled in a third country and he’s now at a point where he just wants to start building his future, even if that means staying in Ghana.
Like most refugees at Krisan, Gaga’s mother barely earns enough money to feed their family of six. For many, it’s been difficult to integrate into the community to carve out a living because of the cultural barriers. Many of the refugees in Krisan don’t know the local language. One refugee we met said that she braided hair for a living, but her Liberian style of braiding hair was different then that of Ghanaians, which made it hard for her to find customers.
Although there are cultural barriers holding refugees back from finding work in the surrounding community, William Bannerman Martin, the camp manager at Krisan believes there are other factors preventing them from finding work as well,
“A lot of the refugees don’t want to integrate because they think it will hurt their chances of being resettled in a different country.”
Gaga’s mother wants a bright future for her son, but she struggles to collect money to feed the family every day. To pay $400 a year to send her son to high school is not an expense she can handle. Refugees have to pay international fees, which are more than double the cost that a Ghanaian student pays.
There is scholarship program set up between the UNHCR and Christian Council of Ghana that sends a few select youth from Krisan onto Secondary School, however it’s a difficult program to get into. Due to a lack of funding there are only 25 spots for all young refugees living in Ghana.
When Gaga was interviewed, he was rejected from the program because he couldn’t pay $23 for an admission form from the local high school. Students must prove they have been admitted to a high school before they can apply for the scholarship.
In their time at the camp the journalism students met many youth in the same situation as Gaga. Most of them spend their days going to the bush to hunt for food, or to the beach to fish and many of the young women end up pregnant or in the sex trade soon after dropping out.
There is hope amongst many of the refugees in Krisan that they will be resettled in a third country, but many are also praying that the Ghanaian government will decide to give them permanent residency, so that they can move out of the camp, get better jobs and finally have identities as Ghanaians.
“I’m tired of sitting idle, doing nothing, this isn’t a life. I am tired of wasting myself,” says Gaga.