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Government spent over $1 million to evacuate 2,262 Ghanaians from Lebanon – Minister

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The Government of Ghana spent $1,062,600 on evacuating 2,262 of its citizens stranded in Lebanon during the COVID-19 lockdown. The amount represents the cost of airlifting Ghanaians back home.

This was made known by a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mr Charles Owiredu, at a media briefing in Accra.

“Government did not bear the full cost of the evacuation as some benevolent individuals assisted.”

The Deputy Minister Mr. Charles Owiredu said of the total, Mr Kennedy Ohene Agyapong, the Member of Parliament for Assin Central, and friends contributed $428,450; whilst the Government provided $634,150.

He added that the evacuees quarantine cost was borne by the Government.

He said the 2,262 evacuees included persons with various illnesses, including nine mentally ill patients.

More than 80 per cent of them had part or all of their cumulated salaries not paid with about 70 per cent having their passports confiscated by their employers and Lebanese agents.

The Deputy Minister said because majority of the girls were not paid any salaries, travel certificates were issued free of charge instead of the payment of the usual $35 fee.

He said some of them were owed huge arrears of salaries by their employers but instead of getting paid they rather suffered imprisonment due to false accusations.

Regarding those having outstanding salaries, Mr Owiredu said they would raise the matter with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Labour for redress.

He said Lebanon was going through challenging times but they were going to pursue the outstanding salaries issue with the Lebanese Government to ensure the victims were adequately compensated.

Mr Owiredu said the Government would ensure that the returnees were given adequate skills training to enable them to settle.

He said for many years, Lebanon was perceived an attractive destination for low-paid contract domestic workers from Ghana, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, despite an inherently exploitative and abusive “Kafala” system.

According to him, the main challenge of the system in Lebanon was the lack of legal protection, coupled with the broad powers enjoyed by employers who were often very exploitative and abusive.

Mr Owiredu said the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic further aggravated the precarious situation of the workers as their employers were unable to pay them their salaries, yet they dared not talk about their cumulated salaries but rather forced to work under very inhumane conditions.

He said in more recent times most of the workers had been the subject of human trafficking and irregular migration spearheaded by a cartel of Ghanaian and Lebanese agents, who literally sold out Ghanaians to Lebanese employers, subjecting them to very vulnerable and precarious lives.

The Deputy Minister noted that, unfortunately, most Ghanaian girls who became victims were semi or complete illiterates and had no clue what they were being lured into.

He said brutal physical assaults on the girls including injuries by employers and agents alike were quite common.

On the way forward, Mr Owiredu advocated for stronger Government policies and enforcement regarding the recruitment and trafficking of domestic workers and tracking down the shrewd agents in Ghana.

Dr Winfred Nii Okai Hammond, Ghana’s Ambassador to Egypt, with concurrent accreditation to Lebanon, said despite the challenges that Ghanaian domestic workers faced in Lebanon, thousands still remained there, hoping that situations would improve.

He said it was, therefore, necessary for the Ghana Consulate in Beirut to be equipped to enable it to adequately handle future situations.

The Honorary Consul General of Ghana in Beirut, Mr Michel Hadad, urged the media to educate the public, especially women, to make informed decisions concerning their travel plans.

Story by Nathaniel Nartey.

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