Ebenezer’s story: From irregular migrant to safe migration youth advocate “After risking my life in the desert and experiencing exploitation and abuse in Libya, I felt the youth must know, so they do not put themselves in similar difficulties,” says Ebenezer, a Ghanaian returnee. Ebenezer Bae, 23, is one of the returnees who have made it their mission to share their migration stories among their communities to raise awareness of the dangers of irregular migration. In 2015, Ebenezer chose unsafe means to travel to Libya. After a life-changing, traumatic experience he came back to Ghana in 2017. Today, he is leading a youth group advocating for safe migration in his community in the Bono region, an area that sees a high rate of youth unemployment as well as returns. “I am fortunate to be alive because many did not survive,” said Ebenezer during the launch of the nationwide #LetsTalkMigration campaign launched in Ghana this past summer. “More importantly, what I was looking for in Libya, is in abundance in Ghana. I want the youth to understand that it is possible to make it here.” He added: “Our successes in life are not defined by where we find ourselves, but rather by our desire and passion. Money is important. But one’s life is more precious. If you want to migrate, use the right channels. This is our campaign message.” The nationwide multimedia awareness-raising campaign launched by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ghana in collaboration with the Government, with support from the European Union under the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, is a first of its kind in West and Central Africa. The campaign aims to promote alternatives to irregular migration and enable youth to make informed migration decisions. It also targets families and peers as they have a direct influence on potential migrants’ decision making. The campaign further contributes to social cohesion between returnees and their communities and to challenge harmful perceptions about return. Throughout the campaign, the stories of ten returnees and safe migration messages are shared via radio, television, posters, brochures, murals, billboards, and phone message. Support comes also from the famous Ghanaian musician and IOM’s Goodwill Ambassador, Kofi Kinaata, who released a song and music video; “Behind the Scenes”, where he tells his audience about the importance of making informed migration decisions. Since launch of the campaign, dozens of young Ghanaians have joined the conversation and shared their migration stories on social media. The stories shared demonstrate that Ebenezer’s experience is hardly unique. He is aware that other young men and women from his community could embark on irregular journeys. Therefore, he took it upon himself to use the lessons he learned the hard way to advocate for safe and regular migration. From a young age, Ebenezer has dreamt of building his own house. He realized that his meagre income as a carpenter would make it difficult to achieve his goal. In early 2015, he heard of someone who had returned to the community from Libya, bought a plot of land, and built a house. That is when Ebenezer considered migrating to Libya too. When he first discussed the idea with his mother, she vehemently opposed. She cautioned that such a journey through the desert was risky as she had heard of people dying. After several appeals, Ebenezer managed to convince her, and she approved his plans. He made the necessary preparation, and his mother gave him her blessings and savings to support his journey. He had a total of GHS 3,700 (ca. 900 USD) for the journey. “My mother was right after all. The journey was dangerous. People were beaten and kidnapped, and the armed men asked for a ransom for their release. I regretted deeply my decision,” he recounts. In Libya, Ebenezer worked in different sites as a construction worker. Business and living conditions were difficult so he decided to continue to Italy by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Ebenezer made the attempt three times and was willing to try again until he got arrested. “I spent one year in prison. The conditions there were terrible; we were used as labourers and people were dying every day. We were about 140 people in one metal container,” he explains. When he heard of IOM’s assisted voluntary return programme, Ebenezer didn’t think twice. He decided to go home. Under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration he was among the first returnees from Libya to Ghana in June 2017. After his return, he started his reintegration process. The support provided by IOM to returning migrants and their communities serves as the first stepping-stone in what is often a lengthy process of reintegration which demands dedication and commitment from the returnees. Considering the investment in terms of time, efforts, emotions and resources that migrants make when embarking on their journeys, reintegration assistance is a key factor in minimizing the vulnerability of migrants upon return, protecting their rights, and supporting them to rebuild their lives within their communities. Ebenezer decided to launch a micro business to sell mobile phones and accessories in his community in Drobo. The hard work of three years has paid off: he has managed to expand, opening three shops and adding two young men as employees. Rebuilding one’s life is not only an economic challenge. Many returnees face stigmatization from their community and even sometimes from family, something which Ebenezer, unfortunately, also experienced. He recalls how he was treated by some members in the community at first. “In fact, it was hard for me to reintegrate back into the community and start life all over. Some people saw me as a failure. Luckily, there were also those who were happy to see me alive.” “I just wish I knew better of the dangers before taking this route. I ignored my mother’s warnings and just prayed my own experience would be different. I believe I would have changed my mind, if I had heard a story from someone who had used irregular means of migration. I want to give that opportunity to my fellow youth, and therefore decided to set up this group — to have open conversations about migration, and to also explore all options at home, before we risk our lives to find greener pastures elsewhere.” Today, Ebenezer, together with other returnees and community members are working to change the narrative around a so-called “failed migration” and counter stigmatization often experienced upon return. The group recently adapted its activities to the current pandemic to include information on COVID-19 prevention into their interventions. To date, Ebenezer and his peers have conducted 12 awareness raising interventions in the communities within the Drobo district and are keen to visit 16 more communities by the end of the year.