Tens of thousands of Ghanaian youths are currently busy learning about the pitfalls of irregular migration.
This is happening as the international workshop Clarifying the Fate and Whereabouts of Missing Migrants: Exchanging Information along Migratory Routes is taking place this week (May 15-16) in Antigua, Guatemala, organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team.
“Much progress is needed to help families find out what has happened to their missing loved ones, and organizations must work together to do as much as possible to address this challenge,” said Frank Laczko, director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, which runs the organization’s Missing Migrants Project.
The workshop will bring together experts and representatives from governmental agencies and inter- and non-governmental organizations, as well as the families of missing migrants, from around the world. The aim of the event is to draw on current initiatives in Central America and other regions to develop common technical standards for collecting and exchanging data on missing migrants for humanitarian purposes.
“Indeed, around the world, the families of tens of thousands of missing migrants are looking for answers,” noted Caroline Douilliez, Head of Project at ICRC. “Using the ICRC’s long-standing expertise in helping the missing and their loved ones, we want to strengthen collaboration among existing initiatives and improve international action on this tragic reality.”
Learning when, where, how and how many migrants disappear can help illuminate what makes migration unsafe and who is most at risk. But this kind of information is currently scarce, a testament to how this issue and the people it most affects have been neglected. Coordinated data collection is key to tackling the complex challenge of searching for missing migrants along routes that often traverse not just countries but continents.
The workshop is part of the ICRC’s Missing Persons Project, a four-year initiative to improve the worldwide response to people who have gone missing owing to armed conflict, internal violence, natural disasters and migration by creating a global community of practice and common technical standards.
“Migration – and migrants going missing – is an everyday reality. We urgently need to create dynamic and efficient regional systems to search for the missing in a way that is both rapid and respectful of their dignity,” says Mercedes Doretti, coordinator of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team’s Border Project, a network of governmental and non-governmental organisations and institutions that collects and exchanges data on the people who go missing along the Central America–Mexico–United States migrant corridor.
However, several years ago high school directors from Ghana’s Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions began noticing that many of their students were dropping out before graduating. Their intent was to enter the job market, by risking the irregular journey across the Sahara and across the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of reaching Europe.
Some were successful, but many were not – discovering that instead of lucrative employment, they faced terrible hardship, including death.
Since May 2017, 1,003 Ghanaians have returned to their communities of origin with IOM support.
About 35 per cent fall within the school age in the country (up to 26 years old). Among them, almost 60 per cent are from the Brong Ahafo, Ashanti and Greater Accra Regions, the highest regions of return in 2017 and 2018 according to a recent Assistance to Voluntary and Humanitarian Return report.
Many return, eager to share their experience with their peers. These migrant voices can be a valuable teaching tool.
Over the past two weeks some 10,000 high school students attended awareness-raising sessions on the dangers and alternatives to irregular migration organized on 29-30 April and 2-3 May 2019 by the IOM in the Bono and Ashanti regions.
Ghanaian returnees were invited to share their journey to Libya with the students and described their migration experiences including inhumane treatment, the crossing of the desert, and the reality in the detention centres.
“The journey through the Saharan Desert is dangerous. Your chances of survival are only 20 per cent. Do not make an attempt and regret later,” said Richard, a migrant returnee.
Fruitful exchanges took place between students and Ghanaian returnees around their journey, and pictures and short videos were also displayed to illustrate the risky and dangerous migratory routes.
Some students joined together voluntarily to form Migration Clubs that were established in six senior high schools. The goal of the clubs is to do peer-to-peer education on safe migration while also sensitising the larger community using drama, poetry, quiz games and arts, among other means.
“It is your role to tell others in your communities, houses or at any gatherings about the risks associated with irregular migration. People may not know, so you must inform them. Be the catalyst for community change,” declared Yeboah Collins, IOM Community Outreach Assistant.
The awareness-raising activities were organized with the support of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and implemented by IOM.
So far, 79,000 individuals have been reached through radio programmes on the dangers and alternatives to irregular migration, 11,000 through awareness-raising sessions in schools and 8,000 through community-awareness activities.
“This activity should be sustained, at least once a year targeting our final year students so that they will not fall prey into the hands of smugglers,” said Kyeremeh Thomas, Guidance Counselling Co-ordinator, Dormaa Senior High School.
An impact assessment will be made to measure behavioural change and strengthen future awareness-raising campaigns in Ghana.