Every week, bus loads of young and energetic men and women leave Techiman and Nkoranza in the Bono Region for the Sahara Desert where the passengers travel on foot and sometimes on jalopies through the expansive sea of sand, hoping to get to Libya, North Africa where a few make it through the turbulent Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
The horrors and tragedies of the journey are both the folklore and realities of these municipalities but many will still brave it to escape their socio economic circumstances.
They are often ill-informed of the dangers and equipped with minimal resources. The consequences for migrants and their families often prove severe; many young people suffer fatal injuries or witness fatalities and face the psychological consequences. When young people return to their home communities not having achieved the career and financial success that motivated them, they may face stigmatization from their families or communities who offered financial resources to fund their journeys. The shame of having “failed” is substantial, potentially driving young people towards negative coping behaviours, isolation, and hopelessness.
But in the whirlwind of deaths, disappearance and despairs, the Catholic Relief Services searched and found the eye of the storm to bring hope and calm to communities battered by these grave tragedies hence the Action for the Protection and Integration of Migrants in (West) Africa (APIMA). Project activities began in October 2018 and concluded in June 2021.
Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Action for the Protection and Integration of Migrants in (West) Africa (APIMA) is a three-year, privately-funded project aiming to ensure that African migrants live and move with increased agency, dignity, and safety in five countries – The Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Senegal. Irregular migration, or migration taking place outside of regulatory norms, has resulted in thousands of young people aged 18-35 leaving their home communities each year headed for North Africa or Europe.
CRS partnered with Caritas in all countries with the exception of Niger, where CRS directly implemented the activities. APIMA’s intervention communities included: Serrekunda and Banjul (The Gambia), Techiman South and Nkoranza South municipalities(Ghana), Gao (Mali), Agadez and Arlit (Niger), and Dakar and Ziguinchor (Senegal).
APIMA is built on a philosophy that interventions must address both the push and pull factors leading young people to pursue economic opportunities outside of their home countries, CRS and Caritas also work closely with community members – especially family members and local leaders and influencers – government structures, and local organizations to further address the “push” factors that drive young people to consider irregular migration.
The project served migrants-in-transit (in Mali and Niger) using the Central Mediterranean Route, returned migrants, and young people who are considering migration to North Africa or Europe. Migrants in-transit typically have a shorter engagement with the project than returned migrants and youth in communities, as they do not remain long in Gao, Agadez, or Arlit. APIMA offers them most of the same core activities but for a shorter duration.
One of the primary drivers leading young people to consider migration is a lack of access to employment opportunities in their home communities. Youth in countries of origin must be able to access and use professional skills and vocational training. Migrants in-transit benefit from learning professional skills, whether they decide to continue on their migration journey or reconsider their travel.
APIMA offered Life and Employability Skills (LES) trainings in all five countries, focusing on the intangible skills that complement technical training, like communication, teamwork, leadership, and self-esteem. In the “origin” countries of The Gambia, Ghana, and Senegal, LES trainings are delivered over five full days or in 10 half-day sessions. To accommodate the limited availability of migrants in-transit, they are typically three-day sessions in Mali and Niger.
APIMA used Targeted Social Behaviour Change messages through drama skits and radio discussions, Community Asset Building activities to give returnees opportunities to volunteer in their communities. It also offered Trauma awareness training through CRS’ Rising from Resilient Roots training, training for participants in soft skills vocational skills and organisation of career fairs as well as Community discussions and campaigns to reduce pressures to migrate. Nkoranza South and Techiman South in the Bono East Region benefited from the project in Ghana. Regionally, 20,000 migrants and 600,000 community members were beneficiaries.
According to Mr Daniel Mumuni, CRS Ghana Country Representative, Techiman South and Nkoranza South Municipalities were chosen due to the high number of irregular migrants originating from the Municipalities.
Experience from the APIMA pilot project will enable CRS to build its repertoire of direct migration experience as there is still a lot of work required for a lasting solution to the current migration crisis, especially related to issues surrounding national and regional security, he said.
CRS Ghana partnered with CARITAS Ghana to implement the APIMA project in 12 communities in the Bono-East Region to achieve the following results:
. 759 beneficiaries acquired intensive knowledge on soft skills through the life and employability skills training
. 192 youth gained new skills while giving back to their communities through the Community Asset Building activities.
. 370 migrants and returned migrants received trauma healing support through the Rising from Resilient Roots training which provided psychosocial support to these beneficiaries.
. Community Discussion activities helped reduce pressures leading to irregular migration. A total of 650 participants benefited from this activity.
. 420 stakeholders from government institutions participated in the Government Meetings events which helped in advocacy and policy inclusion and ultimately led to the opening of an immigration office in Nkoranza to support the youth Migration needs.
. 598 community members and returned migrants participated in the Social Behavior Change Communication drama events which motivated event participants to appreciate local forms of successes and realized the dangers of irregular migration.
. 446 beneficiaries were put into vocational skills training to create employment which is usually the main pull factor of migrating youth.
. To complement the vocational and soft skills, the project provided business network sessions for 446 youth where seasoned entrepreneurs from the catchment area shared their experiences and how they were able to harness their skills to become successful entrepreneurs.
. Lastly, 276 youth were assessed to receive certification from the National Vocational Training Institute– a state recognized certificate for technical/vocational skills training graduates to set them up for continued success after their technical trainings. The remaining 170 beneficiaries were assessed to receive their licenses from the DVLA and certification from NABTEX which makes the CRS APIMA project standout.
The project, through its vocational skills acquisition, helped spun a web of new businesses and expansion of already existing ones. Madam Linda Dor said,” I trained twenty young ladies who were mostly teenage mothers in pastry, juice making and bakery. My home become a mother care. They learnt so fast that they soon become self-sufficient, selling their items in the Nkoranza markets to earn a decent living.”
Some enrolled in other modules like Fashion and Information Communication Technology (ICT), learning the secrets of clothing design and sewing. Web design and techniques in computer programming are now skills acquired by some to aspire beyond their imagination.
When the project was developed, CRS did not place a heavy focus on vocational training in part due to relatively high cost per participant and because participants’ engagement in the project was expected to be of shorter duration than a vocational training cycle. However, based on feedback from participants in the project’s midterm evaluation in July 2020, CRS and Caritas invested project cost savings in vocational training options for limited participants in Senegal and Ghana. These trainings were offered in 2021.
“This tragedy is a community tragedy. As a church, we are bound to rescue the perishing both spiritually and physically. We also realized that even the Church was losing members to the desert trail. Sometimes we go for mass only to realize that some members were absent. We ask and we are told they took the bus, according a local catholic priest.
Mr Kwasi Ameyaw, a returnee and beneficiary, said, “We were reluctant to listen to them but as time went by, we saw and tasted how genuine they were. The local Catholic Church helped built trust and brought in even the doubting thomases who have been bruised physically and psychologically in foreign lands and even by immigrations officers in Ghana,”
Where government agencies and many Non-governmental Organisations (NGO) have failed, APIMA has succeeded to show the way to that destination where the broken hearted will find peace and passion to live again.
“I wish to remind all of us gathered here that taking care of the vulnerable, the deprived, and the needy is a collective responsibility. No society can remain peaceful if a huge section of the population, especially the youth is left behind. The future belongs to the youth, and all of us, those in civil society, in the private and public sectors, in the media, etc. must view youth development as a priority if we want the future to be brighter than today. No single organization or individual can do it alone. It calls for partnership and collaboration. And at CRS, our work is hinged on partnerships. Let us forge a partnership to give our youth hope of a better tomorrow,” Mr Daniel Mumuni, CRS Ghana Country Representative, told a gathering at end of the project.
Voices calling for the return and expansion of the project are many and growing in numbers as they echo through the valleys, over the mountains and the sparse savanna. These voices belong to politicians, chiefs, the clergy, returnees and the ordinary people whose adventures are tied to their socio economic realities. APIMA must come back!