Abena Ofori, a senior nurse at Ghana’s premier hospital, Korle Bu in Accra, decided to take a chance and leave for the Netherlands to try her luck. Her husband was an architect and her pay was not bad, relatively speaking. She decided to quit her job and leave when she saw that some of the Ghanaians who reside abroad were building better houses in town than her own. Against the advice of her husband and children, she resigned her post and migrated.
A few months into her stay, her plan was not panning out as expected and her situation began to unravel. She could not get a job as a nurse and had to look into other ways to earn a living in order to sustain herself and send money back to the children she had left behind and help her husband build a new house. She started looking for all kinds of work and to her horror, discovered that some immigrants were so desperate to earn money that they were even involved in prostitution.
It would turn out that 15 years later, Abena was still an immigrant in the Netherlands, still eking out a miserable existence and pay by working as a carer in an old people’s home. She still lives in a tiny room in shared accommodation, yet the rent consumes most of what she gets from her job as a carer.
After 5 years away from home, her husband divorced her and moved on. Some of the nursing colleagues she left behind received salary increases and generous loans that have since allowed them to build their own houses and live middle-income lifestyles. Totally disillusioned, Abena now curses the day she decided to leave Ghana but she is so ashamed to return home to nothing and with nothing; the stigma attached to the failure of not having made it in Europe or anywhere abroad, is very potent in Ghana.
Abena’s is not an isolated case. Many Ghanaians leave reasonable- paying jobs at home and spend considerable sums of money to get to Europe, where they end up being hit by the reality of joblessness, apart from being confronted with many other confounding obstacles such as those Abena experienced, not to mention there being the issue of a language barrier to overcome, the inclement weather to brave, the formidable residence permit hurdles to cross, and pervasive racism to endure. Let us not mention issues around food and the small joys of life that one takes for granted in one’s own country.
Indeed on paper, salaries from abroad look okay, particularly when converted into Ghanaian currency, the cedi. But in European reality, it may appear that some very crafty civil servant has sat down to calculate that what you earn is precisely what you need for a very basic existence.
After rent and utilities, you are left with barely enough to put food on the table. There is little to do except to start to borrow money to balance the domestic books. Before long, debts pile up. Having bad debts or a poor credit history in Europe is a nightmare – more so if there is little hope of redeeming the situation any time soon.