Several years ago high school directors from Ghana's Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions began noticing that many of their students were dropping out before graduating. Their intent was to enter the job market, by risking the irregular journey across the Sahara and across the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of reaching Europe.
Some were successful, but many were not – discovering that instead of lucrative employment, they faced terrible hardship, including death.
Since May 2017, 1,003 Ghanaians have returned to their communities of origin with IOM support. About 35 per cent fall within the school age in the country (up to 26 years old). Among them, almost 60 per cent are from the Brong Ahafo, Ashanti and Greater Accra Regions, the highest regions of return in 2017 and 2018 according to a recent Assistance to Voluntary and Humanitarian Return report.
Many returns, eager to share their experience with their peers. These migrant voices can be a valuable teaching tool.
Over the past two weeks, some 10,000 high school students attended awareness-raising sessions on the dangers and alternatives to irregular migration organized on 29-30 April and 2-3 May 2019 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Bono and Ashanti regions.
Ghanaian returnees were invited to share their journey to Libya with the students and described their migration experiences including inhumane treatment, the crossing of the desert, and the reality in the detention centres.
"The journey through the Saharan Desert is dangerous. Your chances of survival are only 20 per cent. Do not make an attempt and regret later," said Richard, a migrant returnee.
Fruitful exchanges took place between students and Ghanaian returnees around their journey, and pictures and short videos were also displayed to illustrate the risky and dangerous migratory routes.
Some students joined together voluntarily to form Migration Clubs that were established in six senior high schools. The goal of the clubs is to do peer-to-peer education on safe migration while also sensitizing the larger community using drama, poetry, quiz games and arts, among other means.
"It is your role to tell others in your communities, houses or at any gatherings about the risks associated with irregular migration. People may not know, so you must inform them. Be the catalyst for community change," declared Yeboah Collins, IOM Community Outreach Assistant.
The awareness-raising activities were organized with the support of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and implemented by IOM. So far, 79,000 individuals have been reached through radio programmes on the dangers and alternatives to irregular migration, 11,000 through awareness-raising sessions in schools and 8,000 through community-awareness activities.
"This activity should be sustained, at least once a year targeting our final year students so that they will not fall prey into the hands of smugglers," said Kyeremeh Thomas, Guidance Counselling Co-ordinator, Dormaa Senior High School.
An impact assessment will be made to measure behavioural change and strengthen future awareness-raising campaigns in Ghana.
(With Inputs from APO)