When Listowell learnt about his mother’s death, he knew he had to return to Ghana. With support from the European Return and Reintegration network, he is finally back home to start over – and has just opened a pub to continue his mother’s legacy.
Listowell was only 18, but already fed up with his life in Ghana. His parent’s divorce was taking a heavy toll on him, he was estranged from his dad, and despite working long hours at his mother’s pub, he still struggled with paying the tuition fees for his education.
“I devised a strategy which took me three months to execute – I was going to travel to Europe to find a better life,” Listowell recalls. But he did not want anyone to know about his plan. “I didn’t tell anyone that I was going away. It was only my sister who knew.”
Having consulted his neighbours and friends who had returned from Europe, Listowell firmed up the decision to “seek greener pastures,” as the Ghanaians often describe the journey across the Mediterranean. With savings equivalent to over a thousand euros in his pocket, he left Ghana in 2008.
Crossing Burkina Faso, Niger and the Saharan desert, Listowell witnessed the horrors of the route: “I saw a migrant; he was stopped by some armed men. They asked for his money, he refused and right in front of my eyes, they killed him.”
When he finally made it to Libya, for the first time since leaving, he called his mother. It was not an easy conversation. A few days later, he found a job with a Turkish construction firm. It took him almost two years to save enough money to attempt to cross the sea.
“That opportunity came in 2011 during the Arab spring revolution. In the midst of the chaos, the borders were leaky.” He paid a thousand dollars for the crossing, squeezed in a dinghy together with 175 other people. “I wasn’t thinking about death; once you make the decision to undertake the journey, there are only two options ahead, either you survive, or you lose your life,” he says. Out of four migrant boats which embarked on the journey, only two arrived in Lampedusa.
As an asylum seeker in Italy, Listowell could not find a way to make money. So he decided to try his luck in Switzerland, then in Germany, where he stayed for another eight years. Even though he managed to secure a side job as a bartender, he still lacked the official residence documents. Then came the news about his mother’s death: “I saw no more point in remaining in Europe as the only person I was fighting to stay alive for was gone.”
Landing back in Ghana
In January 2020, Listowell landed in Ghana for the first time in over a decade and immediately got in touch with AG Care, ERRIN local service partner: “On my first appointment, officials of AG Care Ghana were friendly with me, they briefed me on my reintegration process and assisted me with all paperwork.” The team also guided Listowell till he was ready with his project idea, and provided some additional business training support.
Listowell says that the ERRIN programme did not only provide him with funds to set up his business, but also helped him to get settled in a safe environment: “I asked to allocate part of my reintegration assistance to rent a house for two years – and the rest to open a pub.”
Settling back amidst the pandemic
But just as the man was getting ready for an official launch of his business, the coronavirus pandemic hit Ghana. “During the lockdown people were not willing to come outside to buy anything. So I couldn’t start. It was really hard mentally because I wasn’t making any money.”
When he was at the point of giving up hope, he received an additional grant of 200 euros*. AG Care would also call to check up on him regularly: “The support I received from AG Care during the peak of the pandemic helped me to survive,” says Listowell, highlighting the importance of human solidarity during the reintegration process.
As the COVID-19 restrictions started easing, the business slowly started flourishing, too. Listowell hopes to grow the pub into a restaurant, just as his mother did, to honor her memory and continue the family tradition.
“I’m happy now in Ghana because my family and I are finally together and my dreams of becoming an entrepreneur are becoming a reality,” says the 31-year old. “I’m glad the ERRIN programme supported me to restart my life in Ghana. Thanks to them, I can now look forward to a brighter future.”
* 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.