Full text: Foreign Minister’s briefing on security and safety of Ghanaians in Ukraine

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Since the Russian Federation and Belarus started military operations in Ukraine on the 24th of February, 2022, hundreds of lives have been lost through bombardments. Normal life in Ukraine has also been disrupted for the rest of its citizens, including for those of our compatriots living in Ukraine. The Government of Ghana remains concerned for the safety and security of our people currently in Ukraine.

As you will recall, Ghana, in her capacity as a non-permanent member of the United  Nations Security Council had supported calls and efforts to dissuade the Russian Federation from using force to address what it said were its security concerns related to NATO expansion. We encouraged dialogue and peaceful resolution of the differences between Russia and other parties.

We also warned of the humanitarian consequences of any conflict. With the security and safety of our compatriots in mind, we actively monitored the massing of over 100, 000 Russian and Belorussian troops on the borders of Ukraine. Like the rest of the world, we accepted the word of Russia that they did not intend to attack Ukraine.

On 24th February, 2022, we were stunned by news of the bombardment and invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. I would like to state, at the outset, that Ghana will continue to condemn, unreservedly, this unprovoked attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a United Nations Member State and calls on Russia to withdraw and end the war.

Russia bears responsibility for the security and safety of our citizens and we call on her leadership to respect humanitarian law. Government is determined to ensure the security and safety of all our citizens in Ukraine. The ongoing military operations have put the lives of our compatriots in danger and we have called on Russia to end the war and withdraw.

Members of the Media,
Ladies and gentlemen
,

GHANA’S INTERESTS IN UKRAINE

Relations between Ghana and Ukraine have been steady and in 2021, the Government of Ghana granted approval to the government of Ukraine to establish a resident diplomatic mission in Ghana in accordance with article 2 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

Economic and trade exports between Ghana and Ukraine have been quite encouraging as major exports from Ghana include manganese, aluminium ore and cocoa powder, whereas major imports to Ghana from Ukraine included hot-rolled iron bars, raw iron bars and cold-rolled iron. Practical steps were underway to further enhance our relations. However, the current crisis is bound to affect, for now, any meaningful strategic outcomes.

EFFECTS OF THE CRISIS ON GHANAIAN NATIONALS IN UKRAINE

Members of the Media,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Following the attacks by Russian forces on Ukraine, the latter closed its airspace to civilian flights. The country is considered a high risk to flight safety due to the use of weapon and military equipment. Also, the European Union (EU) aviation safety agency has warned the risk in flying in airspace near to Ukraine’s border, including Russia.

Ghanaian students like all foreigners including our compatriots in Ukraine have, therefore found themselves in a very precarious situation. Consequently, based on the overall objective of government to ensure the safety of our citizens in the ongoing crisis, directives were immediately issued to five of our relevant Diplomatic Missions in Europe as well as our Honorary consulate in Ukraine to immediately commence steps to evacuate our willing compatriots.

The deteriorating military situation in Ukraine directly impacts on the safety and security of Ghanaian nationals, including about 1000 students in that country, 27 of these students are on the government of Ghana scholarships (scholarships secretariat), while the rest are predominantly self sponsored students.  Let me state categorically that although most of the students went there on their own, government has a responsibility to all of them to ensure their safety and that we will do.

Following the closure of Ukrainian airspace, it had become a challenge to airlift our compatriots from Kiev and other parts of the country, thus, leaving the only viable option of evacuation by land to neighboring countries such as Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic.

Consequently, my Ministry collaborated with the Ghana Diplomatic Missions in Bern in Switzerland, Prague in the Czech Republic, Ankara, Turkey, and the Vatican, Holy See, Ghana’s Honorary Consuls in Ukraine, Hungary, Romania as well as Ghanaian communities and student unions in Poland, Hungary and Romania to facilitate the evacuation of our nationals after being conveyed from Ukraine by road to the closest borders of the European Countries mentioned earlier.

May I, however, add that information received indicates that there are still three cities in Ukraine where students cannot be evacuated from due to the high risk situation identified there, as reported by our Honorary consul. These cities are: Kharkov (hotspot on the way), Sumy (hotspot on the way), and Dnipropetrovsk (locked down).

Another challenge which our compatriots are faced with is the fear of crossing at borders close to Russia for obvious reasons. We had requested our Diplomatic mission in Moscow to assist with their passage as it will be unreasonable and dangerous to now start looking for another border to access. Unfortunately, there are reports of incursions at the border called Suny which has posed a challenge for about 85 of our compatriots who sought to exit that side of Ukraine into Russia.

STEPS TAKEN

Ladies and gentlemen,

We can confirm that an unknown number of Ghanaian Students are reported to have left Ukraine a week or so ago following Bern Mission’s advice as the situation was getting dire.

The Ghana Mission to Berne issued the statement below, which is also available on the twitter handle of the Ministry:

“The Government of Ghana has noted with grave concern the security and safety of our nationals including the over 1000 students in Ukraine following the Russian military operations across in that country.

We urge our nationals to limit their movements in public places as they obtain adequate essential goods and remain in their homes or move to government places of shelter.

Please be assured that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, this diplomatic mission as well as our honorary consul are directly engaged with the relevant authorities in Ukraine to ensure your safety and security”.

Furthermore, officials of the Ministry held a meeting with the leadership of the Ghana and Ukrainian NUGS to brainstorm on the way forward including plans of evacuation.

A list of our students was compiled to facilitate a Government-facilitated evacuation and this information of a possible evacuation was conveyed to the students through our relevant Diplomatic Missions, Honorary Consul and student union leaders, to prepare them for the exercise.

Having assessed the situation, the students commenced movement by road to the various borders where officials of Ghana’s relevant Diplomatic Missions and Honorary Consuls are on standby to facilitate their passage into countries such as Romania, Poland and Hungary.

We need to appreciate the fat that coordinating evacuations in vast country such as Ukraine with students and Ghanaians spread all over the country comes with difficulties especially with restricted movement due to curfews, lockdowns etc.

Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration have held productive meetings with diplomats of the Russian and Turkish Embassies in Accra to discuss the pathway to an incident-free evacuation exercise. Both meetings resulted in an agreement to facilitate passage of our compatriots, should the need arise.

Other meetings were held with the officials of the Scholarship Secretariat and a Ghanaian security institution all in a bid to promote multi- stakeholder engagement towards a successful evacuation of our compatriots.

The Ministry has requested five European countries bordering Ukraine (Moldova, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia) to facilitate easy passage into their countries by our compatriots. Fortunately, the Government of Moldova has officially indicated it willingness to facilitate the passage of Foreign Nationals based on a structured exercise.

Steps are being taken to secure the contact numbers of parents or guardians of our students to enable the Ministry engage them as we seek to ensure the safety of our compatriots and allay their fears.

CONCRETE OUTCOMES

The Ministry has despatched officials from our missions to various borders to assist our compatriots when they cross into neighbouring countries.

Due to the effective collaboration with the Hungarian authorities, the Government of Ghana has, secured passage through Hungary, on a visa-free basis for Ghanaian students who are in possession of Ghanaian passports.  We are told the Hungarian government is also providing coordinated assistance to enable our nationals reach airports in Budapest or Debrecen. The Government of Ghana is grateful to the Hungarian Government.

This effective collaboration has also led to the Romanian Government according a warm reception to our compatriots. As is the case in humanitarian exercises, women and children have been given priority. The Government of Ghana is equally grateful to the Government of Romania for its Philanthropic gesture.

Indeed, the goodwill displayed by these friendly nations is a testament to the sound bilateral relations that exist between us and goodwill that Ghana enjoys in the comity of nations. We call in other friendly nations to extend similar assistance to our compatriots.

So far, official information indicates the following:

As at 12:00hrs GMT today (27th February), information gathered was that about over four hundred and sixty (460) students had left Ukraine enroute to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Czech Republic.  The students will be received by officials of our Diplomatic Missions, honorary consuls and officials of the Ghana students’ associations.

We are pleased to provide the breakdown of those who have exited Ukraine as follows:

  • 24 have arrived in Bucharest Romanian and our officer on the ground is procuring tickets for them to leave tomorrow enroute to Accra. 48 are being processed at the holding area and another 60 going through border formalities.
  • 38 having crossed into Poland are with our officials.  We are currently also making arrangements for those who are willing to be assisted to get on flights.
  • 25 persons enroute to Prague from Slovakia were assisted by the Honorary Consul and will be received on entry by the Mission in Prague.
  • 25 just this morning arrived in Hungary and are being sheltered at the Pentecostal church in Budapest.
  • Eighty-Five (85) of our compatriots are being assisted by our Embassy in Moscow to cross the border town of Suny into Russia which as indicated earlier has posed serious difficulties.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These numbers are bound to increase in a few days as we observe the team spirit being displayed by our compatriots, reaching out to each other, setting up group WhatsApp chats, sharing important phone numbers of consular officers and other personalities who could be of assistance and the cascading effects of the initiatives.

A most gratifying and heart-warming message “We are safe now”, could not have come a better time. We hope for better days as the Ministry further engages our Diplomatic Missions and honorary consulate to extend consular assistance to our compatriots.

Government has also put in place the necessary package to facilitate transportation, accommodation, feeding, medical support, etc to ease any burden on our compatriots.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

With all the collaborative efforts, I am pleased to inform you that two hundred and twenty (220) of our compatriots have exited Ukraine and should be with us in Ghana soon. We are earnestly facilitating the safe return of a lot more.

We wish to use this platform to debunk the unsubstantiated reports, such as one alleging that a bus conveying some Ghanaians to the eastern part of Ukraine was shot at. At such delicate times such as this, let us all endeavour to steer clear of sensationalism and unconfirmed reports that only serve to heighten tensions at these times.

Our Diplomatic missions in Bern, Ankara, Prague, Moscow, and the Vatican are working around the clock in a coordinated manner to secure the safety at all times of our citizens and their evacuation. As stated earlier, I have ordered the despatch of officers of some of our Diplomatic Missions to meet with our citizens who are being evacuated to facilitate the processes and handle any outstanding challenges. Together we can do this.

I would use this medium to express gratitude to Missions and Honorary Consuls working closely with the Ministry to ensure the desired outcomes, I would also thank all those who have offered various forms of assistance such as religious bodies and student groups, all working together with government in an outstanding demonstration of support for a cause which requires our wholehearted commitment and show of unity of purpose.

Thank you all for your attention, I shall now take questions and comments.

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