Human trafficking and slavery is an international concern affecting millions of people across the globe.
For Ghana, there have been numerous incidents of trafficking and abuse both internally and externally and the canker is one of the biggest challenges facing the country at the national and transnational levels.
Ghanaian migrants, particularly women and young girls, are increasingly recruited through licensed and unlicensed recruitment agencies to work as domestic servants in various countries and annually thousands leave the shores of the nation to Gulf countries in search of such opportunities.
Many of these migrants often fall prey to some dubious recruitment agencies with little or no training or information on the destination countries.
Many streets of Accra are filled with such fraudulent advertisements promising juicy job opportunities abroad and innocent migrants, believing such advertisements, end up in prostitution and slavery or find themselves in all sorts of inhumane treatments.
These advertisements are now common in the streets of Ghana as well as on social media channels, such Facebook and WhatsApp.
According to information collected by Ghana Immigration Service, over 2,000 women departed for work in the Middle East between September 2014 and January 2015.
Since then, over 350 of them have returned, reporting inhumane working conditions and hours, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation and non-payment of salaries.
These migrants, apart from being exploited by the unlicensed recruitment agencies, have no knowledge about the country of destination and as soon as they reached their destination, their “masters” took away their passports.
The 2014/2015 yearly report by SEWA Foundation dubbed “Rescuing Enslaved Ghanaians in The Gulf States” reveal that there are hundreds of Ghanaians girls stranded in Kuwait and majority of them have hidden themselves in a town called Mahboula.
It is said that these girls went there with promises of better jobs but had to run away from their employers as they could no longer tolerate the inhumane treatment from their employers.
Many of these girls complained that when they found themselves stranded on the streets and they called on some Ghanaians to help them, instead of sending them to the police station or the government shelter, they in turn kept them in their rooms, abused them and then dumped them again on the streets.
Some agents and associations also pretend to be helping with rescuing these stranded house helps but instead are also actively involved in recruiting people from Ghana to Kuwait and disassociate themselves from any attempt to actually rescue the victims and send them back to their home countries.
The report said in most cases, citizens from other countries such as Philippians and India are paid higher wages than Ghanaians for the same job and responsibilities because their countries of origin have policies that covers payment of wages and remunerations to their citizens.
As a result, individuals from these nations are treated well on the job compared to their Ghanaian counterparts.
According to the report the Ghanaian migrants also expressed concern that because there is no embassy in Kuwait, it is difficult to deal with issues that comes up against Ghanaian residents, saying, such issues would have to be sent to Riyahd in Saudi Arabia to have them addressed and appealed to government to open an embassy there.
To address this concern, seven key Ghanaian Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have jointly agreed on measures to protect migrants at home and abroad.
The agreement was the outcome of a day’s workshop to commemorate this year’s International Migrants Day held in Accra.
The seven MDAs are Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, Labour Department, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), and Ghana Police Service.
The workshop also was attended by representatives from the European Union Delegation to Ghana, Embassy of the United States, British High Commission and civil society organizations.
Discussions focused on issues of exploitation of migrant workers, particularly Ghanaian women and girls in the field of domestic work.
The Government of Ghana has initiated various measures on migration management including establishing a Migration Information Centre and a Migration Information Bureau, which acts as a one stop shop for information for potential migrants; signing of a bilateral agreement on labour issues with the Government of Jordan; creating of an association of employment agencies; sensitizing Ghanaian ambassadors and relevant stakeholders; developing a National Migration Policy; and the establishment of a unit at the Kotoka International Airport to identify potential victims of trafficking prior to departure and providing return and reintegration assistance to returnees through IOM.
However, recognizing the increasing challenges and the continued exploitation of migrants, the aforementioned MDAs and IOM, reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights of vulnerable Ghanaian migrants at the workshop.
This was delivered through the Joint Statement and the recommendations made on the development of standardized operating procedures, information sharing and data collection protocols, provision of pre-departure training and orientation, improved monitoring of recruitment agencies and provision of systematic reintegration assistance among others.
The Joint Statement on Protecting Migrant Workers at Home and Abroad acknowledged the challenges at every stage of migration (pre-departure, departure, in host countries, return and post return) and consequently the need for a whole of government approach.
Through this statement the participants recommitted themselves to implementing the recommendations to ensure a safe migration system and a decent work for all Ghanaian migrants.
The workshop was held under the auspices of IOM’s Ghana Integrated Migration Management Approach (GIMMA) project which aims to bolster the Government of Ghana’s migration management efforts, funded by the European Union.
Mr Sammy Longman Attakuma, the Chief Director of Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, who read the joint statement on behalf of other stakeholders, said they would also develop information sharing protocols to inform stakeholders to enable them contribute to the protection of migrants as well as ensure their rights and that of their families.
He said: “We also intend to negotiate additional bilateral agreements with key receiving countries, to facilitate humane and orderly labour migration and decent work for all.
“Strengthen access to information for potential migrants in Ghana and contribute to their ability to make informed decisions by improving the capacity of institutional structures to serve as one-stop migrant workers’ resource centres.
“Improve access and availability of training and pre-departure orientation opportunities, to increase knowledge amongst potential migrants on issues of job training, adjusting to a new culture, cultural sensitivities in the country of destination and their rights among others,” he said.
Mr Attakuma said they would enhance the law enforcement response including the closure, investigation and prosecution of illegal recruitment agencies and individuals who facilitate the recruitment and trafficking for domestic work of Ghanaian migrants.
Ms Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, Chief of Mission, IOM, blamed the plights of these women on fraudulent advertisements for jobs opportunities in various countries and stressed the need to intensify education on the concern.
She said it was not fair for IOM and the Foreign Ministry to organize and bring back the migrants any time there was a problem, only for the perpetrators of the illegal act- illegal recruiting agencies- to be left unpunished.
December 14 every year, is recognised by the UN as International Migration Day to remember and identify the challenges of migrant workers as well as their contributions to national development in terms of remittances to the families.