Thirty-six-year-old Eric Opoku Ware left the shores of Ghana after his senior high school (SHS) education to seek greener pastures the hard way. Hoodwinked by sugar-mouthed recruitment agents, he defied the odds and embarked on the journey to Libya by land, through the Sahara Desert.
He went through traumatic and nerve-wrecking moments – from “promise and fail” by the agents, adverse weather conditions, hunger and thirst, trekking for days in the desert, to attacks by “the kings of the desert.”
At a recent sensitisation campaign organised by the Migration Information Bureau (MIB) of the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), he narrated how they were robbed of their possessions by armed robbers and subjected to inhumane treatament.
“Before you start the journey, you are told not to let anyone know about it. When we started the journey to Lybia, we were 60 in the group. But, before we got there, only 19 of us survived. Some of the females were gang-raped, others were killed, while some others died from hunger and thirst. I survived by a miracle,” he narrated.
The Libya returnee narrated how most of the migrants who tried to get to Spain and Italy by sea got thrown into the sea or drowned under bizarre circumstances.
The story of Opoku Ware is just like a cup of water drawn from the flowing ocean. There are many others who have either lost their lives or have been maimed physically or psychologically through irregular migration.
What is irregular migration?
At the recent sensitisation campaign by the MIB, Mr Mark Asamoah-Boakye, head of the outfit, defined irregular migration as a situation where people use unapproved means to get to their destinations in foreign lands. This may include the use of fake documents such as passports, visas, impersonation and unapproved routes. Those who overstay their resident permits in foreign lands can also be categorised as irregular migrants.
Irregular migration usually has elements of deceit, exploitation and fake contracts by fake recruitment agents.
Migrants in an overloaded truck heading to Libya through the desert
The state of irregular migration in Ghana
There is a new paradigm in the irregular migration syndrome which involves the illegal trafficking and smuggling of people, especially females, to the Gulf countries notably Kuwait, Saudi Arabia Qatar and Iraq.
A confidential but authoritative source revealed that between November 2015 and February 2016, an estimated 5,400 Ghanaians left the country to the Gulf region.
The figures show that about 4,100 of them were females while the remaining 1,300 were males. It further showed that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the destinations for more than 4,000 of them while the remaining figure is distributed among Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Oman.
Even though there are many motivating factors for the canker, the desire to seek greener pastures is the hinge on which those factors revolve.
Mr Opoku Ware, the Lybian returnee, revealed that he opted to travel irregularly because two previous visa application attempts by him failed.
Many young people get frustrated when they cannot find jobs after school and have to depend on family members for a livelihood. They are, therefore, ready to throw caution to the wind.
Do they meet their expectations?
Most of the time, some of the prospective irregular migrants are duped by recruitment agents through the use of fake documents.
Officially, there are 22 registered private recruitment agencies in the country but there are more than 200 fake agencies with foreign partners who, acting as sponsors, lure unsuspecting people into the Gulf regions.
The contract terms and conditions are usually written in the language of the destination country which the victims cannot read and understand.
As a result, they end up being used for all manner of demeaning, dirty and dangerous (3Ds) jobs akin to the barbaric slave trade.
They go through painful ordeals such that some of them escape from their sponsors to the government shelter, especially in Kuwait, where they are subsequently sent to deportation centres for repatriation.
Some of the migrants travel in overloaded boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe
A Ghanaian Times publication of March 16, 2016 showed that 500 women were stranded in Kuwait and were languishing in a camp waiting to be repatriated home. The report said most of the victims had been subjected to inhumane treatment, to the point that some had their kidneys and other vital organs replaced with that of those in dire need of them.
Who will bell the cat?
There is a saying that experience is the best teacher. This is exactly the case with Opoku Ware. After he went through the traumatic experience in the jaws of irregular migration, he decided to join the crusade against the menace.
He founded the Sahara Hustlers Association (SHA), an anti-human smuggling and trafficking non-governmental organisation (NGO) in 2002 to educate prospective irregular migrants on the challenges that come with it.
Some dead victims of the infamous irregular migration trhough the Sahara Desert
The Lybia returnee has since taken the campaign to SHSs, market places, churches and religious gatherings and other places.
The NGO has also partnered with the GIS, Passport Office and other anti-human smuggling and trafficking organisations to weed out the canker.
The fight against irregular migration is a much complex web that calls for multi-sectorial and collaborative efforts from all stakeholders.
A comprehensive government policy to regulate the outflow of people and serve as a guideline for recruiting agencies will ensure that all players play according to the rules of the game.
This calls for collaborative effort by stakeholders such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, Ministry of the Interior, the Ghana Immigration Service and the Ghana Private Recruiters Association (GPRA).