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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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The Bank of Ghana reported that $2.45 billion was sent to Ghana in remittances in 2010. This figure outstrips the 2010 foreign direct investment of $1.28 billion, according to the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, and comprises 6.5 percent of the estimated GDP for that year.

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Peter Quartey, the deputy head of the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana, says that family members often encourage young, unemployed men to migrate.

“[There is a perception that] it is when you migrate that life is better. So there's always the pressure ... to migrate and also remit the family,” Mr. Quartey said. “People lose their wives to migrants. People get wives quicker when they have migrated.”

Migration within West Africa increased when an ECOWAS agreement was signed in 1979 permitting free movement of people within the member countries.

Quartey says that the lure of Libya for Ghanaians has to do with the network that has formed between Ghanaians who have already migrated and those at home. “One or two [Ghanaians] might have gone and succeeded and therefore the chain of migration has continued.”

Libya is also seen as a stepping stone to Europe. Opoko said he, too, hoped to eventually continue on to Italy or Spain.

Unknown impact on Ghana

When the fighting in Libya intensified, Opoko fled the country to Tunisia. Along the way, he was attacked by Libyan soldiers who robbed him of his savings. Like many other migrants, he returned to Ghana with nothing.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesperson for the IOM, says the full economic impact of the loss of remittances will probably never be known.

“Many of the Ghanaians in Libya were there as irregular migrants, therefore [they] didn't have any bank accounts or anything,” Mr. Chauzy said. “So the money they managed to send back was probably sent back informally and therefore very difficult to track.”

Opoko has been unemployed since returning to Ghana. He depends on friends and family for food and money. He says that if he is unable to find work, he will migrate again.

“If I get money right now, I'll start a business. But I don't have [any], and I can't steal,” he said. “It's a problem. I am supposed to take care of my mother. I am supposed to pay the school fees of my brother. But I can't keep borrowing money.”

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