Feature Article of Tuesday, 1 November 2005
Columnist: Tsikata, P. Y.
Hardly a day passes these days without news of a Ghanaian arrested in the diaspora for immigration related offences. Who is to be left out of the race to enter Europe and North America for the so-called greener pastures? The quest among opportunity-seeking skilled and unskilled Ghanaians and individuals from other developing countries, especially in the West African sub-region, to migrate to the developed countries for greener pastures is on the rise no matter what the cost.
The long observable queues at the missions and embassies of Western European and North American Countries in Ghana and other West African countries are clear testimonies to that.
Whereas most professionals may find it very easy to migrate to these countries under the guise of visiting, studying, attending seminars and then going on to legalize their stays, it has proved extremely difficult for the unskilled.
Barely a decade or so ago, we all saw how a number of Ghanaian stowaways were crudely executed on the high seas aboard a foreign vessel destined for Europe (France or Italy). The fortunate one among them, by a favourable set of circumstances, went through hell, survived to tell his horrendous story to a shocked world.
The former president, Jerry John Rawlings, is rumoured to have come to the rescue of others who were dumped in the high seas a couple of times during his presidency.
A year ago, three Ghanaians, two dead and one alive, were discovered on a cargo vessel carrying cocoa from Ghana to St George?s dock in Hull. The news was as damaging as one can imagine, as there are large numbers of Ghanaian students studying in Hull.
My enquiries on how these stowaways get on board these vessels reveals the connivance of some crew members in most cases. There is also glowing evidence that the would-be stowaways are one-time stevedores or longshoremen who are well familiar with the architectural labyrinth of these vessels. Therefore, finding a place on board to conceal oneself from the watchful eyes of crew members has never been an impossibility. Where crew members are involved, middlemen are involved too, with monies ranging from $400 to $1000 or more doled out for the purpose.
But certainly, when these unfortunate individuals are discovered, whether there is insider collaboration or not, they receive the harshest inhuman treatment which is mostly by dumping them into the high seas.
Some prefer the bus-caravan-cum-wayfarer routes which are no less dangerous. Nevertheless, the assurance in the age-old maxim ?nothing ventured nothing gain? has its fascinating charm/spell on these individuals to such an extent that the dangers are completely downplayed. Exposure to the extreme heat waves in the desert, the dangers of vulnerability to brigands or bandits, and cruelty from immigration officers and the police do not scare these desperate young men and women whose intention is to reach Europe in other to better their proverbial lots.
Within West Africa, however, Ecowas protocol A/P. 1/5/79 paragraph 2 of Article 27 with subsequent revisions, calls on Member States to exempt Community citizens from holding visa and residence permits and allow them to work and undertake commercial and industrial activities within the sub-region.
Contrary to this provision, Gambian security forces took the law into their own hands, a few weeks ago, and executed some of these so-called illegal immigrants right in our own backyard. This dastardly xenophobic act brings into question the very provisions to which Gambia is a signatory in the spirit of ECOWAS.
Have the Gambian so soon forgotten when they used to benefit from the benevolence of the Ghanaian by sending large numbers of their students to Ghana for university education, when they had none?
The Gambian president, Yahaya Jameh, must be held personally accountable for such a backward security faux pas exhibited by his men. ECOWAS, in the spirit of its provision on free movement of persons and goods must go all lengths to make sure the identity of the individuals killed in the Gambia are established with the right compensations paid to their families and relatives.
Our quest for sub-regional and regional integrations, creating a borderless West Africa and Africa could not be at its lowest point than this when we find West Africans and Africans abrogating due process to themselves and meting out instance justice to fellow West Africans and Africans for perceived immigration related offences.
Dr Kwame Nkrumah could not have been so right when he asserted that ?the independence of Ghana is meaningless, until it is linked with the total liberation of the continent, Africa. Today, despite the fact that Africa is politically free on paper, complex world economic order, divisive xenophobia, overriding ethnocentric identity has robed us of the unity our forbears trumpeted in their resounding call for the liberation of the continent from the colonial imperialist.
Five years ago, the world watch some conscienceless brutish White South African policemen opened their German shepherd dogs on poor Africans who were trying to enter another African country (South Africa) using unapproved routes. The pictures were heart rending and disturbing, but these heartless, merciless policemen with no sense of decency looked on with a hearty laughter.
Today, 120 Ghanaian illegal immigrants have been deported from Morocco. It is neither the first of its kind nor would it be the last of its kind.
In the recent past, Libya is on record to have deported many West Africans leaving them stranded in the desert for whatever fate they came too.
It is exactly for this reason that most African leaders treated the Libyan leader with the suspicion and the contempt he deserved when all of a sudden he tried to reenergize the African Union by travelling across many countries en route to an AU meeting a few years ago. He tried to symbolize unity, but fell back on his own sod when he could not protect African immigrants in his own country.
In the most recent killing of illegal immigrants, Morocco is unable to establish the identity of the ones her security forces executed in cold blood. What a shame? We no longer have immigration experts (accent tracers) who could trace the accents if immigrants and link them to their places of origin. A case in point is when Ghanaian immigrants feigned to be refugees from the Dafur war-torn region, all forms of immigration investigative tactics were deployed leading to the establishment of the identities of the unscrupulous ones for repatriation to their places of origin.
Now, for those who choose the more comfortable air routes, the need for a visa and its acquisition is as cumbersome as going for the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology which featured Jason, the son of the dethroned king of Iolchos. Fraud, deceit, subterfuge have bedevilled visa acquisition. The CID unit of the Ghana police service has reported that 60% of visa related fraud originates from the university campuses in Ghana. Ministers are on record to have attempted acquiring visas for so-called businessmen and individuals with doubtful backgrounds. Reverend Ministers are not left out of this lucrative trade. They have become God?s ambassadors and consul representatives with the powers to influence the issuance of visa at their beck and call, irrespective of whether the prospective applicants have genuine documentations and valid reasons to travel abroad or not. Bank officials are on the move to provide the necessary financial statements to back fraudulent claims of huge savings in non-existent accounts. The list is inexhaustible. The net effect of these unscrupulous acts has been very detrimental to the body image of Ghana.
Clearly, Western embassies and missions in Ghana, well aware of this situation, treat Ghanaian visa applicants who appear before them from the position of doubt. A majority of visa applicants are regarded as potential fraudster until they are able to prove to the issuing officers to the contrary.
Genuine visa applications are, therefore, turned down on these suspicions only for applicants to try again with the same documents and to be issued with visas or to be denied again.
Young Ghanaian men and women who cannot afford the huge visa fees, money for fake documentations and other forms of payments for the process have become sexually exploitable to foreigners and well-to-do locals alike.
In October 2004, an email showing Ghanaian young lady in her early twenties, posing in all imaginable and unimaginable sexual nudities made its way into my email. Tracking the origin of the email revealed to me that it had traversed the nooks and crannies of the globe. The message attached to the pictures read: The craziness of Ghanaian girls wanting a Whiteman or coming abroad.
Labadi beach and other resorts around the country have become meeting points for some of our young men eager to catch a foreign lady or a man. Somewhere in 2003, a crowd at the OSIKAE beach, where I went with my friends to have a drink, attracted us. When we got to the scene, a middle-age Whiteman was being punched and slapped by a Rastaman who looked more muscular and well-built than the helpless man. His offence was that he was caught sodomizing a young 17 year old boy with the promise of helping him travel to Europe. He was paraded naked through the high streets of Accra to the James Town police station. How that case ended I am not in a position to tell.
On Ghanaian universities campuses, ?the been tos? are the idols. I have vivid memories of a floor mate playing another floor mates office for the simple reason that the former had the chance to spend the summer washing stinking toilets and washing plates in central London. Most students on our campuses today will agree with me that being a ?Burger? is the most cherished thing on our campuses today, and people will do anything to attain that phantasmal status.
So the list continues, a young Ghanaian boy of ten or so managed to outwit airport security and landed safely in the so-called God?s own land, America. The Yankees did everything to remove the boy from the perceived land flowing with milk and honey. Here again, the image of Ghana and our national identity became the focus of immigration hullabaloo.
Returning to the unlawful execution of the purported illegal immigrants by the Moroccan security forces, one owes it a duty as a Ghanaian, a West African, an African, a Blackman and most of all a human being to ask: if living or attempting to enter another country by unapproved means robes a human being of his or her fundamental human rights, especially the right to life?
Though not a smoke screen for illegal immigration, our forbears fashion out the most fundamental of all rights, the right to life based on our universally shared humanity regardless of nationality, colour, creed or race.
It is for this reason that irrespective of ones nationality, colour, race or creed ones most fundamental right, the right to life, must be protected and guaranteed by any particular state on whose soil a foreigner finds himself/herself.
Morocco, Holland and all countries holding immigrants purported to be living or attempting to enter their countries illegal for various reasons must go back to Resolution 217 A (III), 10 December, 1948 and all the articles latched thereof, especially Articles 3 and 6, which recognizes the right to life in all humans and the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law, respectively.
The UN, EU, AU and ECOWAS must also take immediate steps to investigate all abuses against these individuals who are kept in detention camps across Western Europe, North Africa and North America with flagrant disregard for their rights as human beings in order to bring perpetrators to book.
West African governments are also duty bound to fund their national youth councils and information service departments to produce series of documentaries on the dangers of illegal migration and its related issue. In this way, the right chord will be sounded to any individual intending to take the adventure, to be very informed and aware before taking the risk.