Libya war cuts financial lifeline for Ghana
Thousands of Ghanaian migrant workers have fled the fighting, leaving them without jobs and straining Ghana's remittance-dependent economy.
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Although they are now safe, the workers' return ended the flow of money via remittances into Ghana, putting their families under economic strain.
Nearly 184,000 sub-Saharan Africans have fled Libya with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) since the conflict began in February, mostly from neighboring countries. Almost all of the Ghanaian returnees are young men who are now unemployed.
For the families of the returned migrants, the homecoming is bittersweet.
Frank Opoko, a tailor, returned to Ghana on an IOM-assisted flight from Tunisia two months ago. His family welcomed his safe arrival.
“They feel happy, because we were in danger over there,” he said. “Our problem is that we are here empty-handed.... [We] have wives and children. How can [we] take care of them?”
Mr. Opoko migrated to Libya two years ago in search for work, after the death of his father put pressure on him to provide for his mother and younger siblings.
He had heard about the economic opportunities in Libya from a cousin who had travelled there, so he decided to follow. Opoko borrowed money from a friend to make the dangerous journey across the Sahara to Libya. He bussed to Niger where he joined a group of other West Africans for the six-week trek on foot across the desert with little water or food. Of Opoko's group, 17 of 75 people died on route.
While in Libya as an undocumented worker, he quickly found work as a tiler. He was able to send home 500 Ghana Cedis ($325) – equivalent to the average annual household income in rural Ghana according to the IOM 2009 Country Profile. His mother used the money to help cover the cost of food and to pay the school fees of Opoko's younger brother.
'Pressure to migrate and remit'
In Ghana, as in many sub-Saharan African countries, the remittances of migrant workers form an essential part of the family income.