Deadly voyage; The ordeal of 3 Ghanaian minors


On October 16, 2014, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) office in Ghana received three Ghanaian minors, aged between 16 and 17, who had been assisted to return home by the IOM office in Tunisia.

The three — Felix, Musa and Daniel (not their real names) — each paid connection men, otherwise known as human smugglers, to help them travel to Italy. Their means of transport was a locally manufactured balloon boat. Together with other Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians, all numbering 75, they set sail, all in search of new opportunities.

Halfway through the journey, the motor engine of the boat broke down and for five days they drifted on the sea, having lost control of their movement.

The tides and waves sent their boat into Tunisian waters where they were rescued on August 21, 2014.

Felix, Musa and Daniel were among 10 Ghanaian minors who were rescued that day. Eight of them voluntarily asked to be returned home to Ghana.

While waiting for travel arrangements to be completed by IOM Tunisia, five of the minors left Tunis without notifying the authorities.

“Obviously, they reconsidered their journey home and the reality of returning without any financial gain,” Ms Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the Chief of Mission, IOM Ghana, said.

“How will these minors survive in a foreign environment, without an understanding of the language and culture of the people?” she asked.

To facilitate the safe return and reintegration of the remaining three, the IOM office in Ghana mobilised its staff.

The task demanded that the families of the minors be notified, and IOM Ghana sent its reintegration official, Doris Ohene- Kankam, on a journey to the Northern and the Brong Ahafo regions to trace the families of the youth.

That mission brought to light the circumstances under which the three minors left Ghana. Their stories are a powerful reminder of the migration choices faced by Ghana’s youth.

Family tracing revealed that Felix had lost his father when he was in the first year of junior high school (JHS). His mother managed to support him through basic education, but due to the family’s harsh economic situation, he was unable to achieve his desire to continue beyond that.

On 25 November, 2013, Felix left home in the Brong Ahafo Region to join his uncle in Accra for six months. Thereafter, with the approval of his family, he travelled with a “connection man” through Togo and Niger until ultimately reaching Libya on May 1, 2014, where he spent a week in Sabha.

Felix said he worked for one month in construction, so he could repay the “connection man” for travel expenses. He then decided to try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and paid 1,100 Libyan dinars (estimated at US$ 843) to a Ghanaian smuggler.

He arrived in Tunisia, along with the surviving migrants rescued at sea, on August 21, 2014.

Musa, on the other hand, embarked on his journey without his family’s support or approval. The family tracing revealed that his parents had separated and that he had not seen his father in about three years.

He seldom saw his mother who lived in Accra, as he lived with his grandmother in Tamale to pursue education up to the JHS level, after which he left home in search of ‘greener pastures’.

Five months ago, Musa left Ghana, travelling through Burkina Faso to Libya, where he spent one month in Sabha and then moved on to Tripoli.

He worked for some time in the construction industry, but when the civil conflict re-erupted in Libya, he decided to try and cross the Mediterranean Sea and paid 1,200 Libyan dinars (US$ 918) to a Ghanaian smuggler to assist him.

After his mother died when he was very young, Daniel was left in the care of his elder sister until he completed JHS in the Brong Ahafo Region. He then had to work to support himself, as his sister, a married woman with three children, was unable to continue to provide for him on the income she earned from her petty trading.

Daniel left home two years ago and lived with a 30-year-old friend in Techiman, where he was engaged as a day labourer. He embarked on a journey through Benin to Libya and, on his arrival there, he spent a week in Sabha before travelling to Tripoli with other sub-Saharan migrants.

To escape the insecurity in Libya due to the civil conflict, Daniel decided to travel to Europe, which meant he had to cross the Mediterranean Sea. He paid 1,000 Libyan dinars to a Ghanaian smuggler before the fateful journey.

The three Ghanaian minors finally arrived in Ghana on October 16, 2014, with IOM’s assistance. They were hosted overnight by the Don Bosco Shelter in Ashaiman until IOM transported them back to their hometowns in the Brong Ahafo and the Northern regions to meet their loved ones.

“Two of the families were clearly very happy to see their children. However, the other one had mixed feelings,” Ms Ohene- Kankam, who accompanied the minors to reunite with their families, said.

Daniel’s parents were deceased and his sister, who, during the family tracing had indicated her difficult economic situation, was, therefore, concerned about her ability to care for her brother.

But after he had recounted his ordeal, his sister was thankful that he had survived.

Ms Ohene-Kankam observed that “as they recounted their ordeal, one could see the happiness on their faces”.

According to her, the boys could also have disappeared in Tunisia like the others, but in their hearts they wanted to return home to start new lives.

Felix, Musa and Daniel are some of the few migrants who attempt irregular journeys such as this and live to tell their stories. Many, unfortunately, die along the way, with many families never knowing the fate or ever able to recover their bodies.

Calculations based on incidents compiled by The Migrants Files, a joint project conducted under the aegis of Journalism++ , suggest that over 22,000 migrants have died trying to reach Europe since 2000, mainly utilising treacherous routes across the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the actual figure of annual migrant deaths is unknown. IOM notes that collecting such data has never been a priority for most governments around the world.

According to the organisation, many deaths occurred in remote regions of the world and were never recorded.

“No organisation at the global level is currently responsible for systematically monitoring the number of migrant deaths which occur,” the IOM Head of Research, Frank Laczko, said.

“Although vast sums of money are spent collecting migration and border control data, very few agencies collect and publish data on migrant deaths,” he explained.

Additionally, data tend to be scattered, with a range of organisations involved in tracking fatalities. Some experts now believe that for every dead body discovered, there are at least two others that are never recovered.

With a global count surpassing 40,000 victims since 2000, IOM calls on all the world’s governments to address what it describes as “an epidemic of crime and victimisation” against migrants.

A special report released by IOM on 29 September, 2014 highlights the global crisis of migrant fatalities. Since 2000, nearly 6,000 migrant deaths have occurred along the US-Mexico border and another 3,000 deaths along such diverse migration routes as Africa’s Sahara Desert and the waters of the Indian Ocean.

Titled, “Fatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost During Migration”, the report is currently the world’s most comprehensive tally of migrant fatalities across land and sea.

The research behind “Fatal Journeys”, which examines the issue in over 200 pages, began with the October 2013 tragedy when over 400 migrants died in two shipwrecks near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The report, compiled under IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, indicates that Europe is the world’s most dangerous destination for “irregular” migration, costing the lives of over 3,000 migrants in just the first nine months of 2014 .

IOM believes the publication of “Fatal Journeys” will begin to provide some clarity to what many consider to be a concerning trend of hostility and xenophobia towards migrants.

It also represents an initial step towards a more comprehensive accounting of victims, and it serves as a wake-up call for all governments.

“Limited opportunities for safe and regular migration drive would-be migrants into the hands of smugglers, feeding an unscrupulous trade that threatens the lives of desperate people. We need to put an end to this cycle.

“Undocumented migrants are not criminals. They are human beings in need of protection and assistance, and deserving respect,” the IOM Director General, William Lacy Swing, said.

“Our message is blunt: migrants are dying who need not. It is time to do more than count the number of victims. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants,” he added.

source : Graphic Online