The readmission and reintegration unit within the Ghanaian Immigration Service (GIS) was established in December 2019. Within the framework of the Gov2Gov project implemented in collaboration with ERRIN and the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, the twelve-persons Unit is now operating a dedicated Migration Information Centre for Returnees at the Kotoka International Airport, being the first focal point for returnees coming back to Ghana.
“The unit is mainly responsible for the reception of returnees from all over the world, particularly the people who get forcefully deported,” explains the GIS team. “Prior to the arrival of the returnees, the unit gets information in advance and relevant preparations are made to receive them, including mobilisation of other stakeholders who can potentially assist with their reintegration process.”
The team members describe the reception process, saying that due to the sensitive nature of forced returns, the unit collaborates with the airlines to ensure that returnees are the last to exist the planes when arriving on commercial flights, to ensure their comfort and privacy. The people are escorted by officers directly from the aircraft to the arrival hall, where they get assisted with the array of arrival procedures, such as COVID-19 testing. The returnees also receive their first counselling session on the spot, getting potential references for further reintegration support.
“The successful setting up of the MICR office at the airport and building extra capacities of our officers has had a positive impact on the reception of returnees,” say the GIS. “The office set up and equipment has given the unit proper tools for work and recognition, improved our administrative work flows and contributed to the expansion of the unit. As a result, we have a more effective and organised reception of returnees.” GIS also mentions that the capacity building sessions organised within the project have helped to increase greater awareness on how to welcome people back home in a dignified way. The counselling tips and techniques shared allowed the officers to improve their communication with returnees: “We talk to them, get to know their background and always have a listening ear. Thanks to that, people become more relaxed and cooperative. The sessions talked a lot about having the patience to listen to the other side – returnees upon arrival are often very scared.”
The team mentions that the peer-exchanges, knowledge and skills acquired in the process constitute the biggest added value of the process, underlying that government to government cooperation of the kind should be continuously encouraged. The stakeholder meetings organised also allow to address the challenges related to the return process, such as sharing information about the people who are about to return well in advance.
The unit tells us about the profile of the people they get to work with; most of them being people returning from Europe. “Most of the returnees are men between 25 and 40 years coming back to their home regions of Bono and Greater Accra. Most of these people had successfully obtained residence documents in a European country, such as Italy, but decided to move on to Germany hoping for better opportunities.”
The biggest challenge faced by returning migrants is the stigma they face upon return: “Most families invest a lot in the person’s travel, sometimes even sell the family property. Over ninety percent of forced returnees come back empty handed. Oftentimes they need to face rejection by their family and friends; many end up staying with their fellow returnees, instead of going back to their family home.” Thanks to the counselling sessions provided by MICR, more families get reunited these days. However, the team mentions that preparing the families well in advance would be a good addition to the ongoing activities.