Thomas says that if it was not for reintegration assistance provided by ERRIN, he would not be able to start a business and rebuild his life in Ghana.
Hidden in the labyrinth of the University of Science and Technology’s campus in Kumasi, Ghana’s second capital, one finds a small laundry shop. Serving mainly students, it might seem like an ordinary place, but for Thomas it means much more than that. “This place was my lifeline and a stepping stone to restarting life in Ghana after 12 years spent in Europe,” says the returnee.
Thomas thought that going to Europe would stand for a tremendous shift for the better in his life, marked by everyday hardship he faced in Ghana. Back then, working as a tiler, he would secure only one job per year and struggled with finding a permanent place to stay.
He already had a failed track record of trying to leave the country in the early nineties, so this time, he planned his journey down to the tiniest detail.
He intended to go to Germany through Morocco, following the stories of opportunities awaiting there. In 2008, he jumped on a truck and left Ghana without saying a word to anyone, not even his closest family.
Kilometers of hell
“There was a time I had to trek through the desert. I had no water. It was hot. It was seven kilometers of hell.” Following irregular routes, Thomas ended up in detention in Mali, Algeria and Morocco.
But determined to reach Europe, the man found his way to Rabat, where he worked as a cobbler, repairing people’s old and worn out shoes. Using the money saved from the job, Thomas bought a dinghy together with five other Ghanaians. After numerous attempts to cross the Mediterranean, the sixth one almost cost them their lives; they were rescued and brought to Ceuta in Spain. It was from the Spanish asylum center that the man started a 12-year quest around Europe. He recalls he had to take underground jobs nobody else wanted, as there was nothing else he could do without a legal right to work. An unsuccessful try to get hired in a restaurant in Berlin, while he was forced to sleep in a park, made him grow tired.
“It was in 2016 when I received a call saying my parents had died. I was heartbroken”. The news from home and the rejection of his asylum claim made him start to seriously consider coming back to Ghana.
“I contacted immigration officials in Germany and told them I wanted to go back to Ghana. They referred me to the ERRIN programme to support me after my return.”
Twelve years since boarding a truck across the border, Thomas was finally back to Ghana. He jumped on the bus to Kumasi to see his relatives, wishing his parents were still here.
One of the first things he did back home was calling AG Care, ERRIN’s local service partner, to inform them about his arrival and arrange the first meeting to discuss the support he would need. Thomas had some experience working in the laundry business back in Europe and thought it was a good idea to explore this area.
Next to the core financial support, AG Care provided him with business counseling and helped negotiating the price for his shop. “The seller knew I had just returned to the country and wanted to take advantage of me by increasing the cost of the container. If it was not for AG Care’s intervention, I would have bought it at a higher price. An officer was assigned to me in Kumasi, who went with me to pay for the equipment including the washing machines and other goods and helped me in the setting up of the business,” Thomas explains.
But just when Thomas was about to start, Ghana experienced the second wave of COVID-19, bringing his plans to a standstill.
“It was a devastating period for me because I had used my money and I was highly dependent on my business. I couldn’t borrow any money for survival; life became even more difficult when the government restricted free movement in Kumasi. I breathed a sigh of relief when I received a call from AG Care to come over for additional support of 200 euros,*” he says. “It was not an easy experience during the pandemic. My family was there to support me, though.”
Five months since his return, life is gradually getting back to normal in Ghana – for Thomas this means a fresh start. AG Care referred him to other business support programmes available; he is also slowly growing his client base among students on the campus and hopes to attract the residents and workers of the neighbourhood to use his services, too.
For Thomas, getting back also came with a beautiful development in his personal life – he reconnected with his old love. The couple got married and is hoping to enlarge the family soon. “Everyone returning home should have a plan to start an income-generating so that they can restart their life,” he says.
*In response to unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has decided to grant returnees coming back from Germany an additional COVID-19 assistance of EUR 200,00 per single person.