A few years ago, I had cause to comment on the migration of Ghanaian youth to the Arab world, and the resultant human rights abuses inflicted on them by the families and companies that solicited their services. I raised the stakes on the dangers of allowing our youth to travel to destinations where we could not guarantee that their rights, as human beings and as migrants, would be respected. My article was motivated by the interception of scores of young girls aboard an Ethiopian Airline bound for one of the Arab countries. I questioned how our labour and immigration authorities allowed the girls’ traffickers to beat all the checks at the airport and get the girls onboard the plane – without anyone raising an eyebrow.
The recent episodes of thousands of Ghanaian youth appealing to government and the general public to rescue them from modern day slavery in Lebanon has reopened debate on youth migration and its implications for our economy. In a video, the youth – who had been lured by recruitment agencies to the Arab world – appealed to Mr. Kennedy Agyapong, MP for Assin Central, to help repatriate them to Ghana. I am still wondering why anyone seeking greener pastures would make Lebanon their preferred destination.
Comparatively, Ghana has more natural resources than Lebanon; and under normal circumstances Ghanaian youth should not be migrating to Lebanon and most of the Arab world. Historically, Lebanon has not been a stable country since Biblical days. And the country’s closeness to Syria, one of the world’s failed states, should make Lebanon an unlikely destination for economic migrants. Lebanon’s unprecedented foreign currency crisis has been cited as the reason why many migrants, including Ghanaians, have not been paid for months. We have heard real testimonies and watched videos on social media showing how Africans are being raped and treated worse than animals.
According to Amnesty International an estimated 250,000 migrant workers in Lebanon are excluded from labour-law protection, putting them at risk of exploitation and abuse. The migrants, including maids, garbage collectors, farm-hands and construction workers, have borne the brunt of a crippling economic and financial crisis coupled with coronavirus restrictions.
Thousands of migrants reportedly go into hiding after escaping from the employers to whom they were contracted under an ill-reputed sponsorship system, known in Arabic as ‘kafala’, which dates to the 1960s. Many are trapped, unable to go home because they cannot afford the exorbitant costs of repatriation flights or because global air travel is severely restricted. This was the condition thousands of Ghanaian youth found themselves in, which necessitated their cry for support from Ghanaians.
The Ghanaian response
Mr. Agyapong accepted the challenge after watching the video. In fact, the MP for Assin Central has won the hearts of many Ghanaians for his philanthropic investments into social causes. He is on record for fighting human rights causes and promoting a voice for the voiceless. Kennedy Agyapong’s crusade for state investment in youth development has been well documented. He has and continues to pay school fees for children and youth unrelated to him. His current response of facilitating the repatriation of Ghanaian youth held under inhuman conditions in the Arab world is simply inconceivable. He led by example, using US$200,000 as seed money for the repatriation project.
I cannot but admire Mr. Agyapong’s selflessness and fundraising skills. After committing US$200,000 he invited all Ghanaians to contribute any amount they could to the fund. This way, the MP did not want to take all the credit for financing the repatriation. I believe he could have single-handedly financed the repatriation and taken the credit; but he didn’t’ because of his desire to always involve Ghanaians in the pursuit of good causes.
Quite expectedly, the response from many Ghanaians has been overwhelming. I was touched by the story of a 13-year old boy who donated GH¢13 as a symbolic commemoration of his 13th birthday. In fact, all well-meaning Ghanaians need to support Mr. Agyapong’s efforts to inculcate the spirit of self-help and fundraising in us, including children.
Last week, the MP for Assin Central donated US$428,000 – being the total amount realised from the appeal for funds. The amount, of course, included his US$200,000. Mr. Agyapong’s example is at the core of fundraising and resource mobilisation. Resource mobilisation simply gives an opportunity for everybody to contribute both financial and non-financial resources toward a noble cause – like the desperate cry of our youth in Lebanon.
As he has stated repeatedly, Africans can chart our own development path if we choose to. The problem with Africans, and particularly Ghanaians, is our failure to have a clear vision of the future; a future that presents hope to our youth.
Perhaps it is the lack of hope for a better future that often puts pressure on our youth to seek greener pastures, even to countries less naturally endowed than Ghana. Ghanaian youth are found in less endowed countries doing all kinds of work, including football.
Underlying causes of youth migration
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a combination of several factors lead to the decision to migrate. Personal considerations, socio-economic circumstances, and the political situation in the country of origin may be important contributing factors. Often, the main driving force behind youth migration (particularly international migration) is the magnitude of perceived inequalities in labour market opportunities, income, human rights and living standards between the countries of origin and destination. Some young people migrate to escape conflict, persecution, or environmental threats. The decision to migrate is often related to important life transitions: such as pursuing higher education, securing employment or getting married.
A United Nations Report in 2013 stated that Ghanaian migration had increasingly become extra-regional since the decline of Nigeria as a major destination for Ghanaian migrants in the 1980s. Although many Ghanaian emigrants (71%) still stay within West Africa, a growing proportion is migrating to a diverse range of countries outside the region. According to 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%). Estimates of the Ghanaian emigrant population range from 1.5 million to 4 million. These figures have changed over time.
Since the 1990s, skilled migration from Ghana – especially, to developed countries in the North – has been accelerating. Ghana has the highest emigration rates for the highly-skilled (46%) in Western Africa. The medical professions are particularly affected by emigration. It is estimated that more than 56 percent of doctors and 24 percent of nurses trained in Ghana are working abroad. The overall skill level of Ghanaian emigrants is relatively high. According to some estimates, 33.8 percent of emigrants from Ghana living in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries possess medium skills, while 27.6 percent had high skills. Only 3 percent of Ghanaian emigrants had no skills.
Socio-economic context of migration
It is estimated that about 100,000 young people enter the labour market every year. Sadly, many of them do not have the required skills. As more young people enter Ghana’s labour market, the pressure to migrate may increase unless employment opportunities for young labour market entrants improve. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey, while Ghana’s annual population growth rate – one of the lowest in the sub-region – is projected to remain at 2.5 percent, its labour force is estimated to increase yearly by 3.0 percent for the next 20 years – indicating that the labour force is growing faster by the year.
Although the economy has grown steadily over the past few years, from 6.3 percent in 2007 to 8 percent in 2018, labour-intensive sectors such as manufacturing have been growing more slowly – and are therefore unable to absorb the expanding labour force. This is perhaps, the reason for recent migrations of Ghanaian youth to the Arab world. This is a quite recent development, given that previous reports indicated Europe was their preferred destination.
Individual and household level effects
When youth migrate, they tend to improve both their own financial situation and the economic circumstances of their families through the income they earn and remittances they send home. Remittance inflows to GDP (%) in Ghana was reported at 5.9942% in 2017, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognised sources. Traditionally, foreign remittances constitute a major source of foreign exchange for government.
Several reports have indicated that Ghana is the second-largest receiver of foreign remittances in West Africa. Migration is not necessarily a bad idea. It is a socio-economic and financial intermediary for government. Examples of countries that have made migration economically beneficial include Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand etc. However, it is the inhuman treatment of migrants, especially in Arab countries, that is giving migration a bad name.
According to both the UN and the IOM, the decision as to who may enter and reside in national territories is the sovereign right of states. However, all those living within a country’s borders, including migrants, are entitled to the same respect, protection and fulfillment of their human rights regardless of their origin, nationality or immigration status. Respecting the rights and fundamental freedoms of non-native residents or international migrants is essential if migration is to benefit the migrants themselves and the societies in which they live.
The IOM report on youth migration indicated that those whose legal rights are protected often make significant contributions to social and economic development in destination societies. However, there are many migrants – particularly those in irregular situations – who are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations ranging from unacceptable work and housing conditions and a lack of access to health care or education, to abuse, exploitation and trafficking in persons.
African migrants repeatedly experience exclusion, racial discrimination and even violence in the form of imprisonment and rape. This is typical in the Arab countries, where they see Africans as sub-human and only fit to be forced labourers. In fact, the inhuman treatment of African migrants in the Arab world during recent times has not been properly documented and addressed. Despite several international conventions for the protection of migrants, the collective resolve to isolate and sanction countries with poor human rights records is lacking.
As I indicated in the previous article, government and its agencies must bring sanity to the recruitment of our youth to the Arab world. Government needs to fast-track its current industrialisation drive and skills training to create equal opportunities for our youth if we are to convince them to stay in Ghana.
International Organisation for Migration (2009) Migration in Ghana: A Country Profile.
United Nations (2013) “World Youth Report New York 10017, United States of America”. New York. Geneva.
(***The writer is a Communications and Development Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation. (Email: [email protected]. Mobile: 0202642504 0243327586/0264327586)