Leaving a place of abode to sojourn in another state either as a result of ejection, unfavourable circumstances or a personal decision does not come easy even when the right process has been followed.
A change in environment comes with its consequent challenges for both the sojourner and his or her friends and family. Adjusting to new cultural environment, learning a new language, acquiring new friends and being governed by a whole new set of laws is not easy for any individual from the beginning.
However, these challenges notwithstanding, scores of people still leave the shores of Ghana illegally every day to other countries in search for new opportunities and better livelihoods for themselves and their families.
These migrants use various means to reach their destinations by committing thousands of Ghana cedis and risking their lives through perilous routes as the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
While some survive the journey to the other side and live their dream, others don’t and some return to share their experiences.
Socio-economic context of migration
Ghanaian migration has increasingly become extra-regional, since the decline of Nigeria as a major destination for Ghanaian migrants in the 1980s.
Although the majority of Ghanaian migrants (71%) still live within West Africa, a growing proportion is migrating to a diverse range of countries outside the region.
According to the 2008 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Estimates, Ghanaian migrants can be found in more than 33 countries around the world.
After West African countries, the most important countries of destination for Ghanaian emigrants are the United States (7.3%) and the United Kingdom (5.9%) with an estimated 1.5 million to 3 million Ghanaians sojourning in other countries.
As more young people enter Ghana’s labour market than ever before, the pressure to migrate may increase, unless employment opportunities for young labour market entrants improve.
Ghana’s labour force is expected to grow faster than its population over the next decade. While Ghana’s annual population growth rate – one of the lowest in the sub-region – is projected to remain at 2.2 percent, its labour force is estimated to increase yearly by 2.9 percent for the next 15 years (GSS, 2005b).
Although the economy has grown steadily over the past few years, from 5.2 percent in 2003 to 6.3 percent in 2007, labour-intensive sectors such as manufacturing have been growing more slowly and are, therefore, unable to absorb the expanding labour force.
According to 2000 census data, unemployment especially affects the young and those with no schooling (49%).
In light of these trends, skilled emigration is likely to remain an important policy concern, unless work conditions and employment opportunities for the highly skilled improve.
Lack of career development and poor working conditions seem to be important motivations for the highly skilled to migrate, especially for those in the medical professions.
Thirty-seven-year-old Michael Kwame Klugah is a classic example of a former migrant who embarked on a voyage to Europe in search for a better life but was unsuccessful.
In 1999 after unsuccessful job applications, Michael decided to clear his savings of GH¢400, 000 and set out to Europe without the knowledge of his parents and with no proper travelling document.
“I was convinced by a certain Korean that I could become very rich if I travelled to Europe. So after that I became eager to travel outside the country,” he said.
So on July 15, 1999, Klugah left Ghana going through Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and then Mauritania, travelling by road towards Morocco from where he had hoped to enter Spain ‘illegally’ in his desperate search for a better life.
However, that was not meant to be as Klugah had his money finishing along the way, precisely when he got to Mauritania where he said he was ‘robbed’ by some French-speaking ‘connection-men’ – persons who helped travellers of his kind along the way but were notorious of stealing from travellers who could not speak French.
Klugah could not continue the trip from Mauritania because he had no money, so he made his way to the capital, Nouakchott, where he spent the next three years of his life working menial jobs to raise enough funds to enable him to continue his trip to the Moroccan town of Tagine, where he was supposed to cross over to Ceuta, an Island in Spain.
“I had to stay in Mauritania from 1999 to 2002, trying to raise money to continue my journey,” Klugah told DAILY GUIDE.
After three years of hardwork, Klugah said he and other African nationals in similar situation were able to gather the money needed for the trip and came across another ‘connection-man’ who told them that they could get to the Moroccan town of Tagine in a week’s time.
With the excitement and forgetting about what the first connection-man did to him, he committed his savings to the journey and did what the ‘helper’ had asked of him.
“At the gathering point,” he said, “the connection-man told us that we should get two gallons of water. So we got two gallons of water and then we mixed each of the gallons with packets of paracetamol and so because the water becomes bitter you can’t take much and also the little you took along the way will serve as a medicine,” Klugah said.
A week into the journey, they realised that the trip was meant to last for 72-days and not seven days as they had been told.
He continued… “So I confronted the man and said but you told us that it is only one week but now we’ve walked for two weeks and we still don’t know where we are going.”
It was there that we got to know that we need to walk for about 72 days to get to where we were going but by then the man had taken our monies. Some paid $ 500; the cheapest was $ 300. So we had no option.”
The journey soon became more difficult when the food supplies they had started running out.
“But the most difficult aspect of this journey was you know there were fifteen ladies amongst us and anytime they go through their menstrual cycles, there was no water for them to clean the blood so they developed infection and also became weak from the lack of food and water which led to their death.”
He said a Ghanaian colleague he met in Mauritania whom he named only as Asamoah died from thirst after his water got finished.
“I had water with me but could not give Asamoah to drink because I knew I might run out of water so I watched him die crying for water,” he said.
He recounted that after walking for days in the snake and scorpion-infested desert, they reached the Tagine, where they were expected to enter Ceuta, the ‘promise land.’
However, he lamented that in the process of entering Ceuta, they were arrested by Spanish border guards and handed over to Moroccan authorities.
There, he said, they were sent back to Mauritania and the Mauritanian authorities further deported them to Senegal.
He said he had to hustle his way back to Mauritania to search for some money before coming back to Ghana in 2004, with nothing to show from his voyage.
“It was when I came back that I realised I had spent six years of my life seeking something I was unlikely to have,” he mentioned.
Klugah believes his live could have been much better if he had stayed in Ghana and invested his saving into a business.
Klugah started all over again going back to school to acquire his master’s and gaining employment as an interpreter at the Judicial Service of Ghana.
“I am in my final year at the African University College of Communications studying Development Studies,” he said.
In 2005, he registered his organisation called Association of Distress Migrants and Deportees (ADMD) to raise awareness about illegal migration.
In 2006, ADMD began operations and Klugah said he had travelled extensively around the world precisely in countries like Malaysia and Cyprus to campaign against illegal migration.
For him, the “zeal to travel is like a disease for many Ghanaians”, urging travellers to learn to travel legally.
He called for the setting up of a rehabilitation centre to counsel the illegal migrants as they come back to Ghana, since most of them get depressed thinking about the time and resources they have lost.
Some returnees have landed in prison upon their return to Ghana because there is no rehabilitation centre to counsel them as they come.
Policy framework governing migration
Although Ghana does not have an explicit migration policy, it has introduced several initiatives to deal with specific migration issues. Nevertheless, these initiatives often remain uncoordinated; they are sponsored by various donors and implemented by different ministries.
The recent creation of a National Migration Bureau (NMB) interministerial team/steering committee, later renamed Migration Unit (MU), under the auspices of the Ministry of Interior, is an important step towards addressing these issues.
In order to facilitate updates to the Migration Profile, the timeliness, processing, and analysis of migration data need to be improved. Most migration data is census data that is usually collected every 10 years and, therefore, often outdated.
While GIS collects a wealth of administrative data on entries, departures, and registration, the lack of data disaggregated by sex, age and other relevant characteristics makes meaningful analysis difficult. The government also has no accurate data on Ghanaians abroad and irregular migration.