As desperate Syrians flee the devastating war in their country, some are finding refuge in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana. One imam from Aleppo, Abdul Ghani Bandenjki, first visited Ghana in 2006 after being invited to officiate at prayers during the Ramadan holy month. When fighting broke out in Syria five years later, Bandenjki decided to return to this West African nation more than 3,000 miles (4,825 kilometers) away. Now the 42-year-old tutor’s Quranic students outside the capital, Accra.
What was once a temporary solution for his family has started to look permanent, though adjusting hasn’t been easy. “We just want the war to end so that one day we can go back to our country,” Bandenjki said in Arabic. As millions fled Syria, his brothers and sisters left for nearby Turkey and Lebanon. Other family members scattered across Europe. His father, however, refused to leave, and he said his mother died of grief three days after a bomb destroyed their family home.
Bandenjki’s journey with his wife and four children has been the longest. He stays in touch with his surviving relations as best as he can. As more of his countrymen arrived in Ghana, bewildered, he was asked to become the Syrian refugee community’s liaison with the local government. There are no firm statistics on the number of Syrians here, he said, but he believes the figure is close to 1,000.
And it’s not just Ghana. Fleeing Syrians have found refuge in pockets across sub-Saharan Africa, even as far as South Africa. An estimated 300 are in Somalia’s relatively peaceful breakaway northern territory of Somaliland. In contrast to the millions living in camps in Syria’s overwhelmed neighbors, the Syrians here find themselves relatively free. “I think what makes Ghana different is the fact that we have a very generous asylum policy,” said Tetteh Padi, program coordinator for the Ghana Refugee Board. “They are free to move about. They can go out, look for work. I know for a fact that is not the case in other countries. In some countries, refugees are not even allowed to leave the refugee camps.”