Employment agencies in Ghana feed the human trafficking trail

Human traffickingThere seems to be a wave of migration from Ghana by young people seeking greener pastures in the Middle East and Gulf regions, and that is fueled by a growing number of employment agencies.

In an interview with the US Ambassador to Ghana, Robert P. Jackson he expressed concern that the Ghana government isn’t shutting down the employment agencies that are recruiting these people and sending them abroad.

“When I meet those officials they say the right things to me, but there doesn’t seem to be much being done. They are not prosecuting people, they are not closing down these employment agencies that are sending men and women to the Middle East and forcing them into prostitution,” he had told ghanabusinessnews.com.

In most of my travels, I come across young people flying for the first time. It is easy to tell these are first time travellers by air. They often look nervous, are unable to locate their seats and mostly would ask for where to find the toilet.

However, the reality of young people being sent on a one-way trip into obvious slavery became clear to me when on a trip to Kigali last July, I engaged one of the young men seated next to me in a conversation. He was flying from Ghana to Dubai, he told me.

He is 28 years old. Was able to complete Junior High School, but was well spoken and seemed eager to make it in life. Before meeting him and talking to him, I had earlier in March engaged a young woman from Kampala, Uganda on air, as she  was also heading to Dubai for work.

Their stories are the same. They come from poor families, they are unable to continue their education, their fathers aren’t around. In the case of the woman from Uganda, she has no idea where her father was, and the man from Ghana told me his father had died and his mother was ill and he needed to find work outside Ghana so he could support the family.

In both cases, they all claim they have done everything to survive in their respective countries, but couldn’t make ends meet.

They are all said it was hard to find jobs in Ghana and Uganda.

“I am the eldest son, and my mother is unwell. My younger brother is still in JHS, and my younger sister just completed JHS. There is no one to help us,” the young man said.

Like the young lady from Uganda, the young man from Ghana paid the employment agency some GH¢4000, approximately $1000. Part of it covered his airfare. Even though he showed me a return ticket to the United Arab Emirates, he was making a one-way trip! He didn’t even know he was holding a return ticket, with a return date in August, 2016.

“What work are you going to do?” I asked him.

“Either a security man or cleaner,” he said.

“So you don’t know exactly what you are going to do?” I asked again.

“Well, the agent told me, when I get there, whatever is available is what I will get,” he said this time, nervously, my probing questions probably bringing him down to reality.

“If someone is offering you a job abroad, you should know exactly what you are going to do and how much you are going to be paid. Indeed, you should sign a contract before you board the plane,” I told him.

He shrugged, looked at me sheepishly and intoned, “Well, God willing I will find something to do. I need to make some money to come and help my family.”

That was when the magnitude of the problem dawned on me.

The employment agencies are possibly exploiting vulnerable people who believe that the grass is greener on the other side. From the conversations, it is also obvious that the clients are not told the whole truth. They are given false assurances of jobs and entrapped by the lure of life abroad in some Arab paradise; these young people get easily hooked to some fairy tale.

While there are no figures of Ghanaians in slavery abroad, globally, 21 million people are enslaved, including children under 18 years accounting for 26 per cent of trafficked persons. The victims are forced into early marriage, prostitution and forced labour.

The Africa region has the second highest estimate of about 3.7 million persons enslaved. Asia and the Pacific have the highest number of people in modern slavery in the world – an estimated 11.7 million.

There are 1.5 million persons enslaved in the developed world, according to data provided by Free the Slaves, an organization working to free people in modern slavery around the world.

In the Middle East and North Africa, there are 2.9 million people living in slavery.

There are news reports of Ghanaians working in the Middle East and Gulf regions being mistreated. The Ghana government had been compelled in some cases to rescue some of the victims.

This year’s Anti-Human Trafficking Day was marked on July 30, and these were the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mark the day: “Human traffickers prey on the most desperate and vulnerable. To end this inhumane practice, we must do more to shield migrants and refugees — and particularly young people, women and children — from those who would exploit their yearnings for a better, safer and more dignified future.”

The Ghana government must focus its lenses on the employment agencies and shut them down if necessary. But more importantly, it is the responsibility of the government to take care of its citizens, stimulate the economy, create jobs and make it unattractive for its young people to leave to other countries to live in slavery.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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