Music legend Kojo Antwi in his 1995 hit song ‘Atentrohuo’ casts the life of an illegal immigrant like that weightless material from the silk tree. Across the world illegal immigrants live under the shadows amid fears that something untoward might happen to them. They could be arrested, detained by immigration officials and deported back to their countries of origin.
On Wednesday 14 2017, that dreaded fate befell 75 Ghanaian illegal immigrants in the United States of America. They’d sought asylum to regularise their stay but it didn’t work out as they were all rounded up, handcuffed and deported back to Kotoka.
Were they criminals?
No, none of them was said to have any criminal record. Yet, they arrived in their homeland cuffed, shamed and humiliated. Their stories may vary but they all carried one name--- deportees. This isn’t the first time and might probably not be the last of its kind. Peoples from Africa and for that matter Ghana get that a lot. And I think it’s about time our governments stood up against this appalling treatment.
Also, what many Ghanaians witnessed at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) last Wednesday wasn’t the first. Ghana has had her nationals deported from outside its frontiers before. In 1983 up to 1 million Ghanaians and other African immigrants were deported from Nigeria. This was the period country faced severe drought and economic meltdown.
Prior to this, Ghana in 1969 deported many Nigerians back to their home country. The exercise which happened to be first in the post-colonial era was carried out by the then Akufo-Addo-Busia regime. Many believed the 1983 repatriation exercise executed by then Shehu Shagari’s administration was retaliation.
The West African nation’s people are known to be adventurous. They’ve over the years travelled to Europe, North America, Oceania, and Asia and most recently to the Arab world in search of greener pastures Life has treated some well, but others haven’t been lucky.
Reports say there are currently, about 7,000 Ghanaians living in the US illegally who are being processed by ICE (US Immigration Customs and Enforcement) agents for a possible deportation. That report was disclosed by US Ambassador to Ghana, Robert P Jackson in April this year.
“In fact, about 7,000 of them are currently at different stages of the deportation process. And we are not apologetic about that.”
Did the Sojourner Know of his Fate?
Let’s read this anecdotal piece:
Kotoka, I never planned it. I didn’t plan this home coming. It came like a bombshell. All along I lived my life like ‘Atentrohuo’ constantly tossed around by storm anyhow at its choosing. Time was ticking and my fate was on edge. Indeed a chicken drank to a stupor is often clueless of her fate. There was no date set for this trip. Not on my own volition!
It was too late to take a flight. The falcon had cornered me (his prey). And I’d found myself in captivity. The captor had been lurking around the corner yet I didn’t know. And I couldn’t see him. I didn’t know my fate had been numbered.
From far away we’d sojourned: Away from home. We left behind our loved ones and friends. We’d been gone for years. Needless to say our departure from home was dictated by necessity and poverty. Yes, abject poverty had driven many of us away from home—young and old, men and women, students, professionals and many more.
Remember, we left our shores unshackled but we’ve returned today in handcuffs as though we’re criminals and didn’t deserve our human dignity. But we’re proud to be back home. Don’t forget our story could be your story, her story and his story and anybody’s story.
In case you didn’t know there are more Ghanaians who are waiting their deportation documentation the local media had learned. Like the 75 whose applications had been rejected and deported, 10 other Ghanaians who had also applied for asylum but their applications were not successful are also expected to face similar or same fate. And it’s my hope that the authorities in the US this time won’t fly them home cuffed as they did to the 75 deportees earlier.
Narrating his account to the local media in Accra one of the deportees, said he was part of a group of Ghanaians who went to watch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but managed to stay back after the tournament. He would eventually as many had done it before proceed to the US whereupon he sought an asylum.
“I was detained in California for a period but later moved to Arizona and then to New York before I was arrested and deported,” he narrated.
So what’s Asylum?
Asylum is the protection granted by a nation to an individual who has left his/her native country as a political refugee. For example, in the United States asylum may be granted to people who are already in the country and ‘unable’ or ‘unwilling’ to return to their home countries due to persecution, on account of race, religion or political opinion.
The above definition makes it difficult if not impossible for any Ghanaian immigrant to be granted such reprieve in the United States, either with a lawyer or no lawyer. In the 90’s Ghana received refugees from Liberia and Chad. Unlike its neighbours which had been plunged into civil wars and ethnic conflicts over the decades Ghana has been enjoying a relative peaceful atmosphere.
Internationally, everyone knows Ghana to be politically-stable as compared to many of the countries in the sub region. Its thriving democracy has become an envy of the continent. This in part explains why our kinsmen were sent home. Their cases were looked into but they failed to meet the requirements.
One may ask why someone would consider the asylum option.
Unfortunately our brothers and sisters took that route. On that note I will say this to all prospective Ghanaian travelers, don’t seek political asylum whether in US, Europe or Asia. Typically political asylum doesn’t favour Ghanaians. It tends to favours peoples from Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen etc.
The U.S. government spends more on immigration enforcement than all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. From 1986 to 2012, the federal government allocated nearly $187 billion for immigration enforcement. In 2012, it spent almost $18 billion on immigration enforcement—24 percent more than its combined spending on the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Currently nearly 43.3 million foreign-born people live in the United States. This is broken down as follows by immigration status:--the foreign-born population includes 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.6 million noncitizens. Of the noncitizens, approximately 13.1 million are lawful permanent residents; 11.1 million are unauthorized migrants, and 1.7 million hold temporary visas.