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Opinions of Saturday, 15 September 2018

Columnist: Mabel Faith Tannor

Dying for greener pastures: the migrants' route

Migrants step over dead bodies while being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast Migrants step over dead bodies while being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast

I can’t recall exactly when I first watched the Deadly Voyage movie, but the scenes are still fresh in my mind. For the benefit of those who may not have watched the movie, here's a gist.

Deadly Voyage was based on the true story of some illegal migrants from Ghana and other West African countries who stowed away to Europe. The lead character was Kingsley Ofosu, a Ghanaian.

Desirous of finding a better life, dockworker Kingsley Ofosu and eight other Ghanaians stowed away on a Ukrainian cargo ship headed for the United States via France.

The ship's sailors discovered the illegal migrants when they (the illegal migrants) were in search for water in the ship after their water jar fell and got broken.

The managers of the ship discovered traces of them (the illegal migrants) in the ship. And because they (the managers of the ship) did not want to bear any penalties from the United States government for transporting illegal migrants to the country, they (the crew) decided to murder them.

The crew searched everywhere in the ship and killed all the stowaways. However, the lead character, Kingsley Ofosu, was able to hide away in the ship until the ship docked in France where he managed to escape to raise the alarm.

Kingsley survived the journey and recounted his ordeal in an article published in The Guardian newspaper in London. The story caught the attention of the film company, The Union Pictures and the story was turned into a movie script by Nick Davies, leading to the shooting of the movie, Deadly Voyage in 1996.

Having watched the movie, I became frightened anytime I saw a ship. The scenes in the movies haunted me for so many years and it was some few years ago that I was able to discard those fearful scenes and my phobia for ships. I even made a personal promise that I will never travel by ship.

Ofosu probably was fortunate enough to live to tell his story so that others could learn from it. But it appears many are yet to hear Ofosu’s story or heed his counsel as they continue to perish in same or similar similar situations on the high seas in their quest to reach Europe and the Americas.

Anytime I hear about migrants, particularly African migrants dying on the Mediterranean seas, my mind only races with scenes from the Deadly Voyage.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 60,000 migrants have died since the year 2000. Similarly, since the beginning of 2014, IOM has recorded the deaths and disappearances of over 22,500 migrants and explains that the death rate has increased at the Mediterranean region from 1.2 per cent in the first half of 2016, to 2.1 per cent in the first half of 2017.

In a forward to the publication, Fatal Journey, which discusses the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, the Director General, William Lacy Swing, described the Mediterranean seas as one of the routes that see numerous fatalities each year.

“However, the true number of migrant fatalities is unknown, as not all deaths and disappearances are reported. In many remote regions of the world, bodies may never be found, and many migrants may never be identified. Each nameless death represents a family missing a loved one,” William Lacy Swing notes.

On Saturday, August 4, 2018, Premium Times quoted the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to have reported that no fewer than 1,500 refugees and migrants have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the first seven months of 2018.

The refugee agency said the bleak milestone was confirmed after more than 850 lives were lost in June and July alone, making the Mediterranean crossing as the deadliest sea route in the world.

According to UNHCR, one in every 31 people attempting the crossing in June and July died or are missing, compared to one in 49 in 2017.

More than 3,000 migrants died making the trip in 2017, but the IOM notes the number of fatalities is likely higher due to the number of boats that sink without rescue crews knowing. In 2016, for instance, more than 5,000 people died along the sea route.

"People are still dying at sea in enormous numbers, even after years of seeing this happen repeatedly," Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM regional director for the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, said in November 2017.

The sad note is that many of these migrants who either die or are missing are from Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa with Nigeria and Ghana being major sources of sub-Saharan migrants to both Europe and the United States.

According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), a nonpartisan American fact tank based in Washington, D.C, between 2010 and 2017, several sub-Saharan migrant populations increased, including those from Nigeria (70,000 individuals), Ethiopia (70,000) and Ghana (40,000).

It adds that 1.7 million Ghanaians, representing six per cent of Ghana’s population applied for the U.S. diversity lottery in 2015, even though only 50,000 people worldwide, are permitted to move each year to the U.S. through the programme.

PRC reports that international migration from countries in sub-Saharan Africa to Europe and the United States has grown dramatically over the past decade.

Director of the Center for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana (UG), Professor Joseph Teye during a lecture titled: “Interrogating the Forces behind Migration from Africa to Europe”, held at the University in March, 2018, said the high levels of irregular migration is becoming more and more disturbing.

According to Prof Teye, the global stock of international migrants increased from 173 million in 2000 to 247 million in 2016, representing 3.3 per cent of the world’s population.

The Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation, Ambassador William Hanna, at the lecture said the needless deaths and torture that have come to be associated with illegal migrations could be minimised or eliminated completely if African governments can take full advantage of the trade partnerships between Europe and Africa in order to generate wealth for development and demands that the dissipation of talents, brains and human resources of many African countries through illegal migration should come to an end.

Despite the dangers, thousands of migrants -- many fleeing conflict, poverty or oppression -- continue to risk their lives on overcrowded and barely seaworthy boats in the hope of finding a better life on European shores. Obviously for these determined minds, the grass is greener on the other side, even if death stands in the way.

A stitch in time obviously will save the thousands of souls Africa continues to jettison. Illegal migration is a needless scar we bear, but as pointed out, we work to improve our lots and prevent these needless deaths, of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and babies too.