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Impact of COVID-19 on migrants in Sunyani

Covid

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 an up and down movement of commercial drivers, bus conductors, food sellers, traders and travelers.

This careful observation does one thing to him.
He’s been 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, a few metres away from its main entrance, they 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.

Duties
Awudu appears quite set, ready and anxious to face the task and business of the day. His regular habit is to chase up travellers’, 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 to offloading them to a particular point of destination.
Pockets and groups of the migrant wheelbarrow pushers are a common sight in Sunyani, the Municipal Capital of the Region.

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

Importance of their duties

As important as their presence and jobs may be, they operate unprofessionally, let alone honour tax obligation to government. This is partly so because they do not belong to any identifiable labour group or organisation that help advocate and promote their course and welfare.

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After settling down to chat with them, I noticed the underlying reason why most of these young men are out of school: in this form of child labour they can eke out a living to support their families back home.

All of them have come from poverty-stricken communities, families and neighbourhoods in mostly the North of Ghana, very distant destinations, of over 500km to present location in Sunyani to find a trade.

According to UN-IOM, there are millions of internal migrants in the country such as female head porters, locally known as Kayayei, working in the informal economy.

In 2015, the Ghana Statistical Service reported 6, 488,064 internal migrants.

Challenges
They face enormous challenges and this has been exacerbated by the COVID- 19 pandemic, harassment from Municipal Assembly task office, low patronage of their services by members of the public, tribalism, poor housing and other factors that infringe their fundamental human rights. They sleep in rough often in wooden, makeshift structures.

Mr Razak Suleimana, one of them and representative of Dagomba migrant Wheelbarrow Pushers Group bitterly lamented failure on the part of authority to supply food and other Coronavirus safety items to vulnerable groups, minorities and their communities, when government announced lockdowns and restrictions on movement across the country in March.

The little money they earned was used for purchasing nose masks, their only weapon against a deadly pandemic at home and in public.

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Most of the migrants have used a single face mask for weeks. “Unlike other places in the country, where food were distributed to people free of charge to under privileged, we didn’t get any supplies in our area. Remitting money to our families at home was a huge obstacle because the little money we got, went into purchasing face masks to protect myself,” he adds.

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 wheel barrows are confiscated by these officials and a fine of between GHC 30.00 or GHC50.00 are imposed on them.

The general rule is many of these migrants do not have savings culture with banks, where they could hoard part of the many they make in business for future use. They live 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 coronavirus pandemic.

Any cushioning?

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

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

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Mr Thomas Tornu, Sunyani Municipal Director, Department of Social Welfare, points out that the Department has intentions to roll out a strategic and an elaborate plan to rid the streets of wheelbarrow 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, reintegrate, 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 that 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 it’s 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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