Rita Ekua Yamoah reports on a recent program, organised by the Frankfurt-based non-governmental organisation Maisha e.V. for the empowerment of girls and women in Ghana against irregular migration, which took place in Accra.
Germany-based Maisha – African Women in Germany e.V. has again held a 5-day program to empower women who went through difficulties as a result of irregular migration. The event took place as part of activities of the ongoing Maisha Akwaaba Project, an initiative to raise awareness of the dangers and risks of irregular migration and empower returnees.
Attended by 50 participants – women who have returned from Europe and Jordan, having been unable to obtain regular residency in the countries – the event took place from 29 November to 4 December at the Credit Union Training Centre, Akweele-Kasoa.
The 5-day program, which offered the returnees the opportunity to share their experiences, was divided into two parts consisting of a morning and afternoon session respectively.
Day 1 of the program started with a welcome address by officials of Maisha. They briefed participants about the purpose of the gathering, what they were to expect in the upcoming days and what they would be leaving with at the end of the training. They also gave participants the opportunity to share and exchange their experiences on irregular migration and the problems they encountered.
Dr Garnet Algernon Parris of African Diaspora in Europe gave a lecture on “The reality of living with illegal status in Germany.” The scholar and clergyman shared his experiences as a migrant in Europe. Even though he went to Europe legally, Dr Pariss talked about the numerous challenges, including racism and the stress of finding his feet in a strange land, that he encountered. He said irregular migrants face far more difficulties as they are constantly at the danger of being caught.
The session, during which participants discussed the contents of the lecture, ended with a little drama on “what does it mean to live illegally in Europe?”
The second day of the program featured a lecture that dwelled on the dangers involved for those who sell their body organs. The issue was brought up as many irregular migrants are forced to part with their organs, such one of their kidneys, in places like Libya with the inducement of money.
Dr Parris tasked the ladies on the question, “If you owe someone and you are asked to sell your organ to pay the person, will you or not?” The question generated a heated discussion with the following points made clear about organ transplanting:
- One may lose his/her life.
- You are priceless, hence money isn’t the ultimatum.
- The money won’t last forever hence it isn’t a wise decision to make.
- God knows the reason for giving us two organs, therefore we need not risk our lives by selling one of them.
- There might be complications during or after the transplant process which can lead to long-term illness.
Day 3’s session featured a speech by Mrs Virginia Wangare Greiner, Director/Founder of Maisha, who talked at length about the Maisha Ghana Akwaaba Project II, whose objective is to promote a greater awareness of the dangers of irregular migration with a focus on girls and women. She explained that due to their vulnerable situation, female irregular migrants are exposed to violence and exploitation. The project was therefore initiated to address the problems encountered by girls and women as a result of migration.
The day’s lecture was presented again by Dr Garnet Parris titled “Illegally travelling in the Sahara; the dangerous realities of dealing with people smugglers”, in which he talked about the suffering of irregular migrants who seek to travel to Europe through the desert. He said that more than 20,000 migrants had perished in the Sahara since 2014.
Quoting a report by the UN’s International Organisation for Migration, Parris said that children were dying during migration at alarming rates, most of them perishing in the Mediterranean. The deadliest route for children are those that involve water crossings, he added.
Discussions at the session emphasised that the Mediterranean was the deadliest and most fatal migration route in the world. The stories of migrants forced into slavery in Libya were spoken about, with victims having no contact with their families during their ordeal.
In February 2017, a Sky documentary, described Libya as ‘Hell’ for migrants. The questions posed to individual participants were:
- What are the dangers encountered travelling across the Mediterranean and Sahara?
- What justification should push a girl or woman to embark on such a journey?
On the fourth day, Mrs Greiner interrogated the participants about the program and the things they had learnt so far.
Dr Parris closed the session by encouraging the participants to improve themselves through education and training.
Day 5 started with invited guests applauding the participants for their commitment to the program. In her address, the Director of Maisha Ghana, Ms Elizabeth Osei, emphasized the importance of skills acquisition to gainful employment. She added that jobless people are the most vulnerable to the deceit of human traffickers.
In her closing remarks, Mrs Virginia Greiner congratulated the participants and looked forward to their becoming agents against human trafficking.
Participants were asked to share their views on the program, their experiences as well as what they had learnt.
Advice were given out to the participants, who were subsequently grouped according to the various skills they wanted to acquire and wrote down their interests and how to achieve them.
Dr Parris spoke to the participants about setting up their own enterprises and also managing them which will yield much income for them. He stated that, there are many unique ways in making their work different from all other people, hence they should try as much as possible to be exceptional from all others at all times.
These were other points he stated as to how the ladies can grow their enterprise:
- Making sure they train well on their skill.
- Make sure they learn at all times and better themselves and keep moving on rather than being stagnant.
- Have an idea of what they can earn monthly.
- Be disciplined when running a business because a business is run on money, not on family and friends.
- They should also have future expectations about the business and have a vision as well.
There was a short drama sketch from the various groups as they climaxed the five day program with a lot of enthusiasm, after which certificates were issued to all participants for their dedication.
Maisha Akwaaba Project, initiated two years ago, with the support of Germany’s Foreign Ministry, gives returnee women and girls the chance to discuss and share their own migration experiences, highlighting the dangers of travelling across the Sahara, the Mediterranean and the vulnerabilities of living as undocumented female migrants in Europe.
Another major activity of Akwaaba is capacity-building through the empowerment of the returnee girls and women by providing space for them to learn skills ranging from soap-making to fashion creation. Maisha also supports them to develop their entrepreneurial ideas and market their products and services.