Authors: Arhin-Sam, Kwaku; Fakhry, Alia; Rietig, Victoria
Affiliated organization: German Council on Foreign Relations
Site of publication: Social Science Open Access Repository
Type of publication: abridged report
Date of publication: April 2021
Since its 2015 migration crisis, the European Union (EU) has increasingly focused its migration policies beyond its borders, deepening its cooperation with third countries, many of them in Africa. Ghana is one of these countries. While it is not a primary country of origin of migrants in the post-Brexit EU, the West African nation is an important European partner in the region.1After Nigeria, Ghana boasts the second strongest economy of the fifteen members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), resulting in important migration flows from and to the rest of the region.
The country also displays traits that are common across the ECOWAS region, including a strong focus on the diaspora and emigration, as well as a comparative reluctance to formalize immigration opportunities for citizens of other West African countries. The Ghanaian case is, therefore, indicative of both migration policy within ECOWAS – which is building up its own free movement regime – and the EU’s relations with other ECOWAS members.
Ghana’s main migration interests are different from the EU’s. There, migration is generally perceived as a less salient policy issue, with other policy areas – for example, economic growth, health, poverty reduction, food security, and education – taking a front seat. Indeed, economic and development considerations heavily influence, if not dictate, migration policies. High on the Ghanaian government’s priority list are, therefore, forms of migration that contribute to the country’s economic development, such as the engagement of its sizable diaspora (which Ghana defines as including not only nationals abroad but also descendants of African slaves).
It prioritizes securing safe and legal pathways to work abroad for Ghanaians, including low and unskilled workers. Because Ghana mainly attracts and contributes to migration within ECOWAS, its focus is squarely on regional migration. Its reluctance to formalize opportunities for immigrants from the region is, however, typical and plagues the ECOWAS system
How European funds have come to shape migration policymaking in Ghana
Migration Governance in Ghana: A Competitive Field
Ghana’s migration policymaking hinges on a multitude of actors, including many government ministries and agencies, regional bodies, international organizations, and international donors.
Three government ministries play a leading role in Ghana’s migration governance. The first is the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which primarily formulates immigration policies and hosts the Ghana Immigration Service and the Migration Unit. It also played a significant role in the development of Ghana’s 2016 National Migration Policy (NMP), the framework document that is supposed to expand Ghana’s migration policy development from emigration to immigration. (In practice, however, the NMP focuses strongly on the former at the expense of the latter.) In addition, the Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Migration, which coordinates migration-related issues among government ministries, reports to the MOI.
This inter-ministerial competition is exacerbated by external involvement and funding. EU funding streams have brought some actors to the fore – such as the GIS and its host, the Ministry of Interior. The pair are perceived as “Europe’s darlings” due to the share of funds they receive. In part because of these tensions, migration policy in Ghana is heavily politicized – or more precisely, particular aspects of migration policy are. This means that policy development is long and tedious, as is implementation. Progress on migration governance frameworks has also been fragmentary. The National Labor Migration Policy (NLMP) was developed and adopted quickly – within a year – due to policymakers’ interest in finding avenues of migration for Ghanaian workers. But the processes for adopting a Diaspora Engagement Policy (DEP) and the National Migration Policy (NMP) has dragged on for years, victims of the high political stakes surrounding diaspora policy.
National Migration Policy: Big Plans, Little Implementation
The NMP is the central pillar of Ghanaian migration policy development and can be called a “do-it-all document.” It addresses all areas of migration, including internal migration, irregular migration, urbanization, human trafficking, labor migration, border management, diaspora engagement, forced displacement, citizenship, climate change, and migration data management. The NMP also looks at cross-cutting issues such as gender, health, education, vulnerable groups, tourism and cultural heritage, trade and services, and natural resources.
The NMP follows a whole-of-government approach that is, consequently, relatively new to Ghana. The policy is novel because it requires substantial coordination and mainstreaming in a multitude of policy areas – an approach that was promoted by the AU and ECOWAS. Both the 2006 AU Migration Policy Framework for Africa and 2008 ECOWAS Common Approach on Migration explicitly encouraged member states to develop NMPs. The EU supported migration reform processes in Ghana, as it did elsewhere in the region. But despite the backing from international actors, Ghana’s technical and coordination capacities for implementation remain low.
For the NMP to take proper effect, it needs, for example, to be streamlined into Ghana’s development plan. But despite the fact that the Ghana National Development and Planning Commission is the government partner in charge of mainstreaming migration issues into development plans, this work was largely taken over by the IOM in 2018, when it set up a new inter-agency technical working group to implement and monitor the streamlining process. Given these layered challenges, it remains unclear whether the NMP’s implementation will proceed more smoothly in the future.
Contrasting Ghanaian and European interests in the migration partnership
Three primary issues – all tied to Ghana’s economic health and domestic politics – top the country’s priority list: diaspora engagement, labor migration, and regional free movement within ECOWAS. European partners keep emphasizing that they are interested in these issues as well, for instance in the 2016 Joint Declaration on Ghana-EU Co-operation on Migration. A lot of their practical attention and funds, however, tend to center on the two issues of irregular migration and forced returns. Ghanaians and Europeans seem to look in different directions when they talk about migration. Acknowledging this divergence may be a good step toward closing the gap.
Ghana’s Global Diaspora: A Coveted Asset
Diaspora engagement trumps all other migration issues in Ghana. There are political, historical, and economic reasons for this preference.
This narrative has policy implications. In 2002, under the Citizenship Act and Right to Abode, it became easier for people of African descent to obtain visas, residency permits, and citizenship rights. With the 2000 Ghana Citizen Act Dual Citizenship Scheme, Ghana amended its citizenship laws to allow dual citizenship. As a symbolic landmark, President Akufo-Addo declared 2019 the Year of Return to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves to America. The year-long commemoration included spiritual and birth-right rituals for the returnees. As part of this initiative, 126 descendants of slaves from the United States and the Caribbean were granted Ghanaian citizenship.
The Challenge of Securing Safe Pathways for Unskilled Laborers
Although labor emigration is another important issue on Ghana’s migration agenda, the country struggles to secure safe pathways for its nationals, especially unskilled laborers, to work abroad. While nearly half of Ghana’s emigrants are highly skilled – 46 percent, the highest rate in West Africa – the other half of the country’s emigrants is low skilled or unskilled. Among them, an estimated 4,000 Ghanaians are officially employed in the Gulf States and Middle East (mainly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan); half of those are domestic workers.
The abuse and exploitation they often face is an issue of prime concern for both the government and general public. In order to prevent irregular migration to the Gulf and potential abuses, the government of Ghana had created a specific visa scheme, Visa-20, which agencies, registered travel agencies and so-called connection men are known to forge travel documents and provide misleading information about the nature and conditions of work, often putting laborers in abusive and exploitative situations. Faced with continuing reports on the deplorable situation of some laborers in the Gulf, Ghana’s Labor Ministry backtracked and, in 2017, banned the issuance of the Visa-20. Nonetheless, labor migration to the Gulf persists.
Although labor emigration is another important issue on Ghana’s migration agenda, the country struggles to secure safe pathways for its nationals, especially unskilled laborers, to work abroad. While nearly half of Ghana’s emigrants are highly skilled
ECOWAS and the Limits of Regional Free Movement in West Africa As a stable democracy and key economic player in West Africa, Ghana – together with Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria – attracts most of the immigration from the ECOWAS region. In 2019, Ghana was home to half a million (466,800) migrants who made up 1.5 percent of its total population. Most of them are ECOWAS nationals; indeed, 74 percent of all migrants to Ghana come from just four origin countries: Togo, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. Similarly, close to half of all Ghanaian emigrants are found in the same four ECOWAS countries: Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo (see Figure 5). Overall, Nigeria remains the primary destination of Ghanaian emigrants because of its economic attractiveness and shared features such as language (English and Pidgin English).
Irregular Migration: Small Volume, Outsize EU Interest
The external dimension of the EU’s migration policy has brought irregular migration to the forefront of its relationship with third partner countries. This is demonstrated in political commitments tied to financial incentives, specifically in the Western African region. Following funding incentives, Ghana has taken on parts of the EU agenda on irregular mi gration and has been very cooperative on areas such as border management and institutional capacity building.
Because of the relatively small scope of irregular migration, Ghanaian policymakers do not perceive irregular migration as a prominent issue for the country – as might be the case in neighboring Nigeria. Their primary concern regarding irregular movements relates to issues of the smuggling and trafficking of Ghanaians in Europe, the Middle East, and within West Africa. It also focuses on the high prevalence of internal child trafficking in Ghana, which is linked to child labor in fishing, mining, and agriculture. Therefore, for Ghana, as with the small number of its citizens in the Gulf, the situation of its citizens in Europe is primarily a question of duty of care.
Forced Returns: A Politically Hazardous Area
Despite the increase of EU-funded initiatives on return and reintegration, Ghana has shown little interest in cooperating with the EU on forced returns. The 2016 Joint Declaration mentioned a mutual interest in cooperation on returns, but it ultimately only contributed to a slight increase of the return rate, i.e., back to pre-2014 levels that had hovered around 40 percent (see Figure 7). In 2019, the three European countries that returned the highest number of Ghanaians – both voluntarily and forcibly – were the UK (365), Germany (250), and Netherlands (150). To date, no formal readmission agreement exists between Ghana and the EU or its member states.
Because of the relatively small scope of irregular migration, Ghanaian policymakers do not perceive irregular migration as a prominent issue for the country – as might be the case in neighboring Nigeria. Their primary concern regarding irregular movements relates to issues of the smuggling and trafficking of Ghanaians in Europe, the Middle East, and within West Africa
Ghana’s lack of commitment on forced returns from the EU is easily explained as it stems from policy priorities and an assessment of political risk. Importantly, cooperating on forced returns can put the government at odds with its diaspora policy. It risks harming diaspora engagement efforts, reducing remittances and investments, and potentially pushing unemployment at home. Politically, opposition parties can criticize return cooperation with the EU which risks undermining the legitimacy of the ruling party.
The following recommendations cannot close the gap between the often diverging migration interests of the Ghanaian and European governments. They can, however, give German and European politicians, policy experts, and practitioners concrete and actionable ideas for how to aim for more informed migration discussions with their Ghanaian counterparts in the future
- Giving Ownership Means Giving Up Control: To Deliver Better Results, Ensure that National Stakeholders Are On Board when Overhauling Migration Policy
Europeans’ good intentions of giving ownership to national authorities are sometimes at odds with their urge to keep oversight and control over European funds. The process of developing and implementing Ghana’s National Migration Policy can serve as a warning of a process that suffered from insufficient local ownership. Ghana needs the financial and technical support of European donors and international organizations. But national stakeholders – including nonstate actors such as researchers as well as civil society and local actors such as city-level officials – should be at the center of policy elaboration and implementation.
- Get the Right People to the Table: Today’s Power Figures Are Different from Tomorrow’s
Because policies conducted by any government are likely to be revised after a change to that government, it is imperative for European partners to involve the two main political parties in any future discussions on migration policies and debates in Ghana. After President Akufo-Addo’s election in 2017, for example, he distanced himself from the recently validated NMP and placed the Diaspora Engagement Policy under the newly created Diaspora Affairs Office at the Office of the President. Following the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections – and the subsequent challenge of the results on which the Ghanaian Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Akufo-Addo – the government might prioritize the NMP and Ghana’s partnership with the EU differently.
- Be Clear-Eyed about Inter-Ministerial Tension
Just as in Europe, the field of actors involved in migration governance is crowded. Turf disputes are the norm in democratic governance, and Ghana is no exception. Europeans should, therefore, be familiar with – or at least know of – the main actors that play a role in migration policymaking in Ghana. They should also have a clear understanding of how they are perceived by other actors and of tensions between them. Only such understanding can prevent the inadvertent worsening of tensions as has happened, for example, through the channeling of funds and staffing of identification missions (see section 2.1 for details).
- Support Ghana’s Diaspora Engagement and Labor Migration Policies
Ghana seeks to attract investments from the diaspora and increase low-cost remittance transfers and ways to repatriate the savings and pensions of Ghanaian migrants abroad. Following the launch of its National Labor Migration Policy (NLMP), Ghana is looking to secure safe pathways for employment overseas, especially for unskilled or low skilled laborers.
- Incentivize ECOWAS Governments to Reduce Protectionist Policies
Because most immigration to and emigration from Ghana happens within ECOWAS, regional mobility is an essential part of Ghana’s migration dynamics. But free movement as aimed for in the ECOWAS Protocol has yet to come into full force and effect. Protectionist tendencies remain strong, especially in countries with larger economies, like Ghana, that receive as much, if not more, migrants as they produce in ECOWAS. These governments are wary of the implications that full migration regimes and immigration policies would have on their domestic labor markets. The same concerns over foreign competition hamper regional integration progress across the continent, as seen with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the AU’s Continental Free Movement Protocol.
- Refrain from Promoting a Narrative of Migration Control in ECOWAS
European policymakers take an ambivalent approach to ECOWAS. While they support the expansion of regional integration (see recommendation 4.5), they also continue to favor bilateral relations with member states – in particular, to counter north-bound irregular migration. This dual approach may have run against the regional leadership of ECOWAS; it certainly provides ground for member states to delay the full implementation of regional free movement. This leads to skewed migration regimes across the region that favor the diaspora and emigration at the expense of immigration. It also leaves immigration actors devoid of their mandate and competing over other migration issues. This is the case in Ghana, where the Ministry of Interior, despite a mandate on immigration, has become the front-runner for migration policy as a whole.
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