By Rebecca Ekpe, a journalist
News Commentary discusses the continuous ban on recruitment of Ghanaian migrant workers in the Gulf States.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has sent out a reminder that the ban on the recruitment of Ghanaians to work in the Gulf States is still in force. The notice was issued following series of reported cases of abuse against Ghanaians working in the Gulf countries, which also compelled the Employment Ministry to impose the ban. As part of measures to implement the ban, the Minister of Employment, Ignatius Baffour-Awuah, at the time instructed the Labour Department not to issue further licenses to Employment Agencies to engage in such businesses. He said the ban was necessary, as many Ghanaians, who are usually employed as house helps in Gulf countries are often physically abused. The abuse according to experts sometimes manifests in mental and emotional challenges. Some of these recruits, especially women, often returned with bizarre stories on where their passports were seized, or where they were not given what was promised. Infact, we have actually heard of narratives, where some travelled fit and returned sick or maimed. A woman narrated a story of how she was promised some remuneration, but later on, she was told the money had been paid to an agent and she needed to work to make up and then collect the money from the said agent afterwards. The story continued, where she worked long hours and got punished at the slightest mistake. The same woman spoke of how she fell and got injured and ended up in hospital and later was taken advantage of by a Ghanaian. Just hearing these stories and the reminder by the Foreign Ministry about the ban on recruitment to the Gulf States give some consolation, because it looks like measures are being put in place by the government to stop Ghanaians from putting themselves out there to be exploited by heartless people. This is absolutely an abuse of human rights, as Advocacy Group, Human Rights Watch has in the past called on all countries to ratify the ILO treaty on domestic workers, and reform their labor and immigration laws to ensure that domestic workers have the same rights and protections as others.
Indeed, Ghanaian migrant workers are not the only people who suffer abuse while in the Gulf. Actually, it is known that millions of women worldwide migrate to the Gulf to work as domestic workers through recruitment agencies. Their employers sometimes confiscate their passports and let them work longer hours without rest. In ensuring sanity in all of these, the Government of Ghana, although restrained recruitment agencies from giving licenses to agents to employ people to work in the Gulf States has clarified through the Foreign Affairs Ministry that the ban does not affect lawful recruitment of skilled workers or non-domestic house helps to the Gulf States. The question then is, how much monitoring is being done? How stringent are the mechanisms to ensure that people are not still taking advantage of the loopholes to continue with recruitment to the Gulf States? It was sad to hear during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that some Ghanaians were stranded in the Gulf, under very unpleasant conditions. Even before then in 2008, 500 people were reported to be stranded in Dubai after they had been charged huge sums of money by some recruitment agencies in Ghana under the pretext of engaging them in secure jobs in the Gulf Region. At the time the then Minister of Information, Mustapha Abdul-Hamid explained that the security agencies were tracking down the recruitment as well as agencies and the travel and tour companies involved in sending young people to the Gulf Region, especially Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. It is important that the perpetrators of these inhuman acts are brought to book to serve as a deterrent to others. That is why one finds it quite surprising that the Coalition of Licensed Labour Migration Agencies and Returnee Migrants has challenged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ decision, calling on the government to lift the suspension on recruiting workers to the Gulf Region. This may not be a good idea as the abuse of migrant workers persists in the Gulf. According to the Ghana Immigration Service in 2019, about 22 Ghanaians were deported from Saudi Arabia with harrowing tales of assault and sexual abuse. The victims were between 21 and 38 years and worked in Saudi Arabia as house helps. Again, another report by the Ghana Immigration Service, in 2015 also revealed that more than 2 thousand young Ghanaian women were stranded in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, only 5 months after reaching those countries through fake recruitment agencies that promised them lucrative jobs. It is clear that unemployment compels a number of African migrants to travel to Saudi Arabia with the promise of a good remuneration, which sometimes becomes elusive. It may be an arduous task to prevent people from migrating, because they have the right to do so, but what is important is creating the right environment in the home countries, so that people would find it less attractive to migrate for sometimes, very unrealistic, employment opportunities in the Gulf Region.