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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

But they all want to leave!!

So far in my blogs, I have spoken quite a bit about how the Ghanaians approach to life seems to promote mental resilience. But I can’t say Ghana is some utopia, as is demonstrated by the fact that everyone you meet, especially the young, want to leave. They see getting to Europe, especially the UK, as their only true opportunity to “make it” because there are few employment options open here, unless of course you have got good political and social connections. But, when you explain that the streets of London are not paved with gold, and that going to the UK may not turn out exactly as they imagine, they look at you as if you are at least lying to them, but more likely, that you are trying to deny them the opportunities you have had, as you want to keep the wealth for yourself. I do sometimes reflect on this sentiment and have concluded that there is actually quite a bit of truth to it!

Whatever your views on immigration to the UK, our current approach of “Stop the boats!” is simply not working, the boats still come and will continue to come. But away from the politics of, “Should they come?” “How can we send them back” "Where do they live in the UK and how much do they cost!" etc, being here in Ghana does force you look at the thing from their point of view. They are prepared to take insane risks for that one chance of, as they see it, living the dream. To me, it is bonkers, but also tragic, as I know their dreams are extremely likely to turn into a nightmare.  

Much of this was demonstrated by a conversation I had with a young lad who was cleaning my car the other day. A fit, cheerful, hardworking 28 year old, who was asking me to help him get to the UK. When I explained that, apart from the fact that I was not in charge of visas, maybe going to the UK was not everything he thought it would be, he replied that, it has to be better than Ghana. So, I asked him why? He explained how much he struggled to go to secondary school, and how his family sacrificed a lot to give him that opportunity, so he could in time become the main bread winner. He made it all the way through to the end, passing his exams. But, he is now asking himself why he bothered. He finished secondary school over 5 years ago and has been looking for a job opportunity ever since. He even went to the gold mines for 2 years, which he described as brutal. I can quite imagine that working conditions in a Ghanaian gold mine in 2023, are probably pretty similar to working in any other goldrush in history. He said he had a share of a bed in a shack, which he slept in in shifts, the water made him sick all the time and it was lawless, and quite a frightening place to be. He finished by saying, “People die every day there, maybe one, maybe 30, even 100 in one single day, and no one cares, half the time they don’t even recover the bodies for a funeral”. He was asking me to check out his music on YouTube as he was hoping he could make it big as a musician in London. The pathos of it is tragic. Then he pulled off his hat to reveal his long, dirty mop of hair, and said in conclusion, he did not choose to have long scruffy hair, but can’t afford to have a decent haircut. The lack of opportunity here is stifling, especially for the young coming out of school and university. You could say that this is not our problem, but it soon becomes our problem when the boats arrive!

But I find the inherent optimism that going to UK, is the best option for a poor subsistance farmer from northern Ghana as mind blowing. But it is also really tragic, when you consider the all too likely consequences. So why do people do it? I think from a Ghanaian perspective there are 3 factors:

  1. The push factor

  2. The pull factor

  3. The Oil

I should think that over 90% of the people I meet here, especially between the ages of 18 – 35 want to go to the UK and many of them try, and this is just one village, in one country, on one continent! I am sponsoring 2 ophans in Langbinsi to go to school whose fathers died trying to cross the sahara!

I met a young guy in Langbinsi, who was sitting under the shade of a mango tree outside a house I was visiting. He had a bandage around his head, a broken leg and was covered in bruises. But more striking than the physical injuries was the despair in his eyes. There was a mixture of anger, resentment, and despair, but also somehow some fire of determination. I asked if he was OK and was told his story. He with 2 other lads from Langbinsi decided to go to the UK. They would never be able to get a visa legally, so they set off on foot together, full of hope and anticipation of a life of opportunity to come. They walked, hitched and smuggled their way across Burkina Faso and into the Sahara desert, eventually arriving in Libya. There they ended up in one of those migrant camps. These are truly awful places, lawless, with the people living in terrible and squalid conditions in a perpetual state of fear and anticipation. Whilst they tried to work out how to get onto a boat as they did not have enough money for the smugglers, local militia attacked their camp. They burnt it down and he was beaten up, when he tried to intervene to stop some girls being being attacked. His friends managed to get him out, and with a few other migrants, they escaped. They fled down a dark side alley just outside the camp, where he collapsed from his injuries. His friends and some other migrants tried to tend to him, but a militiamen came to the end of the alley, and sprayed it with machine gun fire. The other migrants fell, and he hid under their bodies. He crawled out later when it went quiet and found everyone in the alley was dead, including his friends. He crawled out of the alley and was picked up by the police and deported back to Ghana. Whatever your views of illegal migration to the UK, this is a terrible story and I just want you to imagine being this guys parents! He is not a bad person and has fundemnetally done nothing wrong, he just wants a chance in life, he just wants a job, to work hard and make enough money so he can come back to Ghana and buy a car and build his Mum a house. I really could not take his photo, but it was his mother I was coming to see for one of thge women groups I work with. So, I took this photo of her. The toddler she is holding is not her own, but the baby of her neighbour who died during child birth. The baby was dumped on her, but she cares for it as if it is her own, and is so loving towards it. These are not bad people! So, stood in front of him, I was left rather floundering with things to say. So, I asked him what his plans were once he had recovered. His reply, “I will go back and try again, what else can I do?”

So with this in mind, I just can’t see how some home secretary saying we will send you to Rwanda if you try to come to the UK, is going to stop, or even stem the flow. It is not going to stop my friend. I could tell him the truth until I am blue in the face, he won’t believe me, so he will just try again. He still has hope that others have made it, so why not him? So, to me, to resolve the immigration problem, we need to see progress in development in the countries where the migrants are coming from. I can hear the argument of, surely this is not our problem, but as that problem is going to land on our shores, in ever increasing numbers, maybe it is? Also one has to acknowledge the history that means Ghana is a developing country, albeit growing rapidly, compared to the UK which is so much more economically advanced, albeit stagnating economically!

But only by reducing the push and pull factor will we win the war. Unfortunately, the reality is that with corrupt governments, unjust macros economic policies and large numbers of wealthy Ghanaians acquiring their wealth through migration to Europe or the US (and thus perpetuating the myth) that is is not going to happen any time soon. Indeed, it is only going to get harder!

We can not be blind to the huge waves of migration already happening in and around Africa. People move within districts and regions, as well as within countries or internationally within Africa, moving from conflict, desertification, poverty and depleted natural resources (water, soils), often to the cities or anywhere else they percieve there to be an opportunity.

This pressure is only going to deepen, as the realities of climate change impact on the marginalised, such as those living here in the Sahal. So, without creating hope and opportunities here, the pressure to come to Europe is only going to intensify, as more people see it as being the best, or even only opportunity, and so consider it a risk worth taking.

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