Migration and COVID-19: The socioeconomic impact

by Dec 7, 2020Development, Forced Displacement, Health, Protection and assistance, Reintegration, security

By Robert Tachie Menson Jnr.      

With eyes gazing down the busy, vibrant, and noisy Nana Bosoma Market Lorry Station in Sunyani, the capital of Bono Region, Issah Awudu sits and admires a lively scenery of commercial drivers, bus conductors, food sellers, traders, and travelers at the Station. 

He’s thrusted completely into a perfect position to receive signals which  desperately drive him out of his comfort zone into action at the Lorry Station. 

Awudu, about five feet tall is dark in complexion and has an unassuming personality.  

At a spot on the edges of the lorry station few meters away from its main entrance, drivers, conductors, and travelers chat, laugh, hoot, and tease each other narrowly down the market shed with a group of five other boys, while maintaining high sense of alertness and attentiveness around. 

Awudu appears quite set, ready, and very anxious to face the task and business of the day. His regular habits of chasing up travelers, who have just arrived at the Lorry Station with his wheelbarrow to load up goods and items brought in from different parts of the Bono Region of Ghana and offloading them at a particular point of destination. 

Pockets and groups of these young wheelbarrow pushers are a very common sight in Sunyani, the Municipal Capital of the Region. 

The surge in their numbers is quite phenomenal and very alarming. Their growing presence is becoming a major challenge for city authorities. It’s now clear their activities have become deeply rooted and that they are consolidating their operations. 

As important as their presence and jobs may be, most of them are unregulated. This is partly because they are not affiliated to any labour group or organization.

After settling down to chat with them,  I learnt the underlying reason why most of these young men are out of school, and in this form of child labour is to a modest living to support their families.  

All of them have come from poverty-stricken communities, in mostly the three Northern and Savannah Regions of Ghana. They face enormous challenges which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They sleep rough often in wooden, makeshift structures.  

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there are millions of internal migrants in the country such as female head porters, known as Kayayei, working in the informal economy. In 2015, the Ghana Statistical Service reported 6, 488,064 internal migrants.

Mr. Razak Suleimana, one of them and representative of Dagomba Wheel Barrow Pushers Group bitterly laments failure on the part of authority to supply food and other COVID-19 items to vulnerable groups and their communities, when the Ggovernment announced lockdowns and restrictions on movement across the country in March. 

“Unlike other places in the country, where food was distributed free of charge to under privileged,  we didn’t get any supplies in our area,” he says. 

Another challenge they face is periodic harassment from Municipal Assembly officials. They take them on by surprise in periodic, unannounced dramatic pavement showdowns and drive them out of operating space. These officials claim occupancy to such spaces are illegal as they are a public nuisance for well-meaning and decent members of the public busily transacting business activity. In extreme cases, their wheelbarrows are confiscated by these officials and a fine of between Ghc 30.00 or $50.00 and Ghc 50.00 0r $85.00 are imposed on them.   

The general rule is many of these migrants do not have a savings culture with banks where they can hoard part of the many they make in business for future use. They leave hand to mouth. It becomes a major obstacle to mobilize adequate, substantial resources to start out a new enterprise or investment on their own. Even so now that there’s COVID-19 pandemic.  

Mr. Ameyaw Yeboah James, Chief Executive Officer, Dormaa Area Teachers Cooperative Credit Union (DATCCU), remarks Credit Unions and even traditional banks in their operations do not provide financial services and products to these migrants. 

“They are not permanently stable at a particular location you can trace them. But they can register and open savings account with such financial institutions,” he asserts.  

Mr. Thomas Tornu, Sunyani Municipal Director, Department of Social Welfare, points out the Department have intentions to roll out a strategic and an elaborate plan to rid the streets of wheel barrow pushers pending final approval by the Municipal Assembly. 

“These migrants don’t think about their age, where they will live, whether they have families when deciding to migrate. We plan to rehabilitate, register and re-unify them with their families after giving them choices in education, businesses, part of a holistic plan extracted from a national strategy,” he adds. 

He acknowledges registering them may also lead to institutionalizing their business, which may make the quest to provide decent socio-economic lives, well-being, and guaranteeing their social protection rather difficult and more cumbersome.  

Madam Comfort Asomah, the Bono Regional Secretary, Trades Union Congress (TUC), echoes the Union is ever ready to embrace and welcome these vulnerable groups unto their fold to promote their interest and welfare. 

“The benefits derived from joining a Union may include sense of belonging, representation, achieving social justice and organizing more members for the said Union,” the Secretary adds.  

She notes its vital to consider their long-term development education because “at a point in life they will grow and get tired. Their strength will begin to fail them,” she reckons.

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