What on earth could ever prevent a desperate young man who desires a better life outside the shores of his country from making a move?.
Seriously, I doubt if there’s anything at all that can do the magic!.
The saying “when the die is cast no amount of witchery or prayers can prevent the crossing of the Rubicon” can be likened to the case of a desperate young Ghanaian migrant.
Frank Owusu, 21, as he is known seems to be so passionate about embarking on a trip to Europe all in the name of finding a job to make a good living and to support his family back home.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Frank has dared to go to any limit to ensure his plan to embark on deadly voyage through the Sahara Desert and the deep blue Mediterranean Sea in the hope of reaching his dreamland, Europe materialized.
By hook or by crook, he must realize his dream, as he vowed never to look back on anything that is likely to hinder his plan.
An attempt made by many African youths which brought their lives to a halt while others were exposed to all kinds of torture, suffering and gross human rights violations.
Despite the fact that some undocumented African migrants are fortunate to have survived the journey, the majority of them have perished under mysterious circumstances in attempt to cross over either the Sahara Desert or the Mediterranean Sea en route Europe or the Americas.
Frank who currently resides in Accra, first migrated from Pakyi No 2, a town located close to Kejetia in the Amansie West District of the Ashanti Region of Ghana.
I caught up with him on Thursday March 30, 2019 during my visit to the lorry station at Tudu in Accra to pick a bus home on my way from work.
He sat down quietly under a small makeshift tent with a laptop computer on table right in front of him.
Frank wears a somber look. A careful look at him from afar tells me he might be experiencing some troubling moment.
Touched by sight and moved by my instinct, I quickly approached him to find out if he has any problem which needs fixing to see if I could be of help as I often do the distressed.
Distraught as he seems, Frank opened up to me about his woes. He narrated how he was robbed at a gun point by three miscreants(macho men) who visited his stand the previous night and made away with all his valuables including monies he had saved out of sales over the past one month.
“They took away everything I’ve labored for including my Laptop computer , 2 of my personal mobile phones as well as fifteen (15) mobile phones belonging to my customers”.
“Their activities has left me with no money to even buy common food for myself as a result I have to go hungry for days including today”.
I was really touched by his plight and therefore offered him some amount of money which he used to buy food for himself.
Upon interacting with him for some few minutes, I found out that he operates a kind of business which is illegal.
Downloading of songs from the internet (either burning them on CDs or copying them unto pen drives of his clients for a fee). Such a business, according to our laws is criminal since it amounts to infringement of copyright of musicians.
When caught as a perpetrator, you’re likely to serve a jail term of five years or more including seizure or loss of monies acquired throughout the entire period of your operation.
The poor boy confided in me that he is very much aware of the illegal nature of his business including the consequences that awaits him when caught but in actual fact has no choice to quit since that’s his only way of survival.
It then dawned on me that Frank operates from the Tudu transport station in Accra exactly where I met him.
Tudu Station in Accra is a big area where various buses plying almost all the routes in the city are parked where commuters converge to pick those buses to their traveling destinations.
The same yard also serves as a hub where all kinds of business activities thrive including Frank’s kind of business.
It is obvious that Frank is not the only person involved in this illegal business. Just a glance around and you’re sure to find a couple of young men who are equally neck deep into cashing on the illegal downloading of songs for survival.
To download a song from the internet is not a difficult task but you have to master the technical knowhow involved to make an impact. All you need is an internet modem, a Laptop computer and a sound woofer which blares the sounds played from the computer to the hearing of the public. Once the music hits the people around and they fall in love with the tune, you’re good to go to get your money as Frank usually do in line of his business daily.
“In addition to downloading of tracks, I also charge phones for a fee but I only get a meager fee compared to the downloading of tracks which is a little on the high side”.
“I sometimes make let’s say GH¢40.00 or GH¢ 50.00 sometimes on a good day”.
I also got to know that the very makeshift structure(tent) under which he operates during day, equally serves as a roof over his head at night.
He told me the lorry station has become a den of criminals who patronize the place at night, attacking and robbing people out of their belongings which he himself has fallen a victim to on several occasions. For him, that has been his greatest challenge so far in his line of business.
“Even though once in a while you can get arrested by the police, all you have to do is yield to their request; pay any amount they require from you and you’re safe. But for the activities of robbers, it’s just a nightmare”.
“I’ve been robbed on several occasions which I had to always fall on the little savings in bank to buy my equipment over and over again. In fact, I’m really tired of this business”.
In my bid to understand the root cause of his problem, I posed this question, “Do you know you’re supposed to be in school, and not working”?. He replied immediately: “actually my mom including my Dad don’t have money therefore I chose to be here to make small money so I can be of help to them”.
Frank speaks good English language in addition to French.When asked how come he is able to speak French fluently, he said: “I was born in Ivory Coast to my Ghanaian parents who both reside there at the time but when he turned 11 years, my mum travelled with me back to Ghana.
He revealed to me he is the last born of his parents after the birth of three (3) of his brothers(senior) who are currently wallowing in poverty despite managing a small-scale farming as an occupation in their hometown.
“Their farming business is becoming problematic (not yielding any good returns) to them”.
“In fact, life has become unbearable for my family since my mum felt sick with broken limb and cannot afford to cater for our needs”.
Frank had completed the Junior High School (JHS) by God’s grace but dropped out of the Senior High School (SHS) at form two (2) in 2016 due to his inability to continue to pay his school fees.
His colleagues at Dompoase Senior High School at the time could not come to terms of his predicament, despite sympathizing with him on several occasions wherever they happened to meet him in town since he dropped out of school.
Narrating his childhood days ordeals, Frank said: “I started taking care of myself and my education at the primary school level knowing very well my parents could not be of help”.
“I had to sell fan milk products like the fan ice cream and yoghurt among others and sometimes pure water and even at a point in time sold newspapers in marketplaces just to raise money to pay my school fees and buy my needs.”
“Times were very hard for me so I quit school to look for a better job elsewhere and that was what informed my decision to migrate to the city” (Accra).
According to Frank, after hunting for job for days in the city without any hope of getting one, he resorted to the business of illegal downloading of songs from the internet, burning them on Compact Discs (CDs) or storing them on pendrives for sale for survival.
He made me aware that despite the challenges associated with his kind of job, he’s unable to quit simply because he had a responsibility to reach out to his unfortunate sick mum and three (3) brothers back home.
A responsibility which he bears, demanding that he always send remittances back home for their upkeep.
The saying that a good research work is capable of revealing a fact about a phenomenon cannot be overemphasized in this regard, as it has now dawned on me why a school-going age boy like Frank should be involved in an illegal business of this sort to make an ends meet.
In fact, the root cause of Frank’s problem can be traced to his poor background, no wonder the kind of situation he found himself in presently.
As the saying, “desperate times call for desperate measures” it can be attributed vividly in the case of Frank.
I tried to find out from Frank finally what are his future plan or better still what will he be doing to help himself in order to say good bye to the sad situation he found himself in at the moment.
Guess what, I was flabbergasted when he opened up to me and said that he can no longer cope up with life here in Ghana. For him nothing good works in Ghana considering the myriad of challenges and hardships he had to endure daily before getting his daily bread.
The regrettable activities of armed robbers, the destruction of his possessions sometimes due to heavy downpours coupled with the harassment he often gets from the police and not forgetting the jail term he will be made to serve when caught by the authorities.
There are enough grounds for him to quit the ‘illegal job” (which is not even fetching enough money) and leave for a place he believes he can always find a better life.
Frank confided in me the idea of travelling outside the shores of Ghana was with a hope of finding a good job so he can continue to cater for himself and his family back home.
“My dream is to become a Soldier or a Police officer who can render selfless service with diligence and integrity to my dear nation but without good education, is there any hope for me?” he quizzed.
He told me he had heard frightening stories about most African youths dying mysteriously trying to cross over the Sahara Desert to get to Europe but he is not perturbed a bit about the consequences involved simply because his unwavering determination backed by his strong faith in God is enough to see him through.
“In life, you’re only meant to die once and after that, judgment awaits you, so why should I be afraid to die”? he asked.
“You see I’d rather die a hustler in Europe than remain a pauper in Ghana”., he further stressed.
When asked what will be his route and final destination, he replied: “I’ll first make it to Niger, move on to Libya and then cross both the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea straight to Italy, then move on to Spain and continue from there to America”.
From the tone of his voice and his mannerism, I could feel the kind of desperation he exudes about achieving his plans.
In fact, hearing him alone saying all these words made me shiver since I have heard dreadful stories about such a torturous journey including interviewed relatives of migrants who died in mysterious ways while crossing the Sahara Desert but not from a desperate young lad like him.
One of such stories was about a 39-year old Prince Amoh-Ayensu, a vibrant Ghanaian migrant who met his untimely death under mysterious circumstance while on transit through the Sahara Desert to Italy enroute Libya.
His bizarre story is still fresh in my mind while I continue to tell the story of Frank, another buoyant Ghanaian soul waiting to soon perish in one of those torturous journeys.
How could I forget when it was just last year the tragic incident of Prince occurred?.
But make no mistakes at all, Frank is not alone in the desire to risk his all to embark on the dreaded trip to Europe in the hope of finding a job.
In many other African countries, men between the ages of 18 and 40 years’ head to North Africa every year along well-established migrant smuggling routes, then board boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
To reach North Africa they travel for days under harsh desert weather conditions, suffering abuse from people smugglers and criminal networks while parting with huge sums of money for the journey. A good number get stranded in transit countries, forcing some to return to their countries of origin.
Migration provides immense opportunities and benefits – for the migrants, host communities, communities of origin and destination.
However, when poorly regulated it can also create significant challenges.
These challenges include overwhelming social infrastructures with the unexpected arrival of large numbers of people and the deaths of migrants undertaking dangerous journeys.
For the fifth straight year, IOM has witnessed the deaths of at least 2,000 irregular migrants seeking to reach Europe via the Mediterranean alone.
Movement from Ghana to other parts of the world has grown substantially in recent times. For instance, many young Ghanaians attempt to reach Europe in search of greener pastures by travelling irregularly through Libya because of misinformation and limited opportunities for safe and regular migration.
According to the International Organization for Migration(IOM), at least 60,000 migrants have died since 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 percent in the first half of 2016, to 2.1 per cent in the first half of 2017.
A new record of IOM also indicated that more than 6,600 Africans have died over the past five years, most while crossing the Sahara Desert toward Europe.
However, the study notes these numbers are “just the tip of the iceberg”.
It is shocking to note that last year alone, hundreds of eye-witness accounts have confirmed nearly 1,400 migrant deaths on the African continent. But researchers say these numbers represent only a tiny fraction of the overall number of deaths of people on the move in Africa.
So what at all has been the push factors for the African youth risking their all in the name of leaving their countries to another in a far away lands?
I doubt if not poverty including lack of jobs and better opportunities among others.
We’ll it is so obvious taking into consideration various cases recorded of African migrants including that of the story of Prince Amoh Ayensu, the bubbling Ghanaian migrant who died mysteriously crossing the Sahara Desert to Europe. Same can be told about little Frank Owusu whose story you are reading now.
Similarly, a current Afrobarometer report cited about half of two groups that are critical to African countries’ economic future, the young and the highly educated, have considered emigrating in search of greener pastures.
Among the nine countries surveyed in 2017, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Benin, Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, Uganda, Mali and Nigeria, Zimbabwe tops as the highest proportion of young potential emigrants.
Clear enough, the problem with African youth who are so desperate about finding a better job outside their home countries can be attributed to poverty and lack of job opportunities as the main causes among others.
But will this problem end or will it forever remain with us?.
I don’t think the youth of Africa for that matter Ghana should continue to perish in the Sahara Desert or left to drown in the Mediterranean Sea all in the name of finding jobs and greener pastures somewhere when our beloved country is blessed with oil and rich minerals like gold, diamond, petroleum, manganese, silver among others.
What is required of us is a Continent of good leadership backed by careful management of our natural resources to avert these calamity which is gradually destroying our future generations.
In conclusion, the youth of Africa for that matter Ghanaians deserve jobs, quality education and better living conditions to stay in their own country to work and contribute their quota meaningfully to the development of the nation.
I believe a young man like Frank who is currently hitting on a devious plan to embark on a torturous journey outside the shores of Ghana deserve to go back to school to realize his future dream of becoming either a police officer or a Soldier so he can contribute his quota meaningfully to the growth of this country.
To this end, I want to call on all well-meaning Ghanaians, the government, corporate institutions, Civil Society Organizations and NGOs in the country including the UN Organizations and other International agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union (EU) among others should come to the aid of Frank and assist him to achieve his future dreams to deter him from embarking on such a deadly tangent.
What happened to over thousands of African youths on the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea while crossing over to Europe, America’s, Asia among other countries in the world should not be allowed to happen to Frank including other vibrant young men with your kind support.
Before I conclude, let me use this opportunity to commend the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and the European Union (EU) and partners for their unflinching support which led to the rescue and bringing home of 1001 vulnerable Ghanaian migrants who were stranded en route to Europe.
In similar vein, I’d like to urge the EU to help extend the 3-year EU-IOM joint Initiative that it’s funding which focused on Migrant Protection and Reintegration in Ghana to 5 years to help save mother Ghana from continuously losing its loved ones to the dangers of irregular migration.
—The writer is the Executive Director of Human Rights Reporters Ghana(HRRG) and member of Migration Media Network
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