In October 2019, Zeenatu moved to Turkey to further her education. For a young girl who was born at New Fadama and has lived there all her life, this was the ultimate dream.
It’s one thing to just travel abroad, and it’s entirely another to gain admission to study oversees. If the former brings joy, the latter culminates in utopic ecstasy. That was exactly how Zeenatu felt.
Unfortunately, though, her journey as Physician Assistant student at the Bandırma Onyedi Eylül University faces uncertainty following the COVID-19 outbreak in Turkey.
The transcontinental country recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 15, 2020, leading to a series of measures by the government. Like in Ghana, the Turkish government has imposed a ban on travel and has also moved to restrict gatherings.
This means all foreigners in the country are currently without a window to return home. But while other countries have already moved to evacuate their citizens from Turkey, Zeenatu and other Ghanaians remain unsure if the Ghanaian government really wants to them back home.
“We are stranded over here,” Zeenatu tells Pulse.com.gh. “Most of us are struggling, we’ve been struggling for the past three months,” she said, adding that the Ghana consulate in Turkey has created a WhatsApp group for constant updating of stranded Ghanaians.
Government’s evacuation plans
Earlier this month when Ghana Foreign Affairs Ministry announced plans to evacuate Ghanaians who want to return home, it brought huge relief to Zeenatu and the thousands of Ghanaians abroad who are desperate to reunite with their families, but have been kept apart due to the pandemic.
The plan was to airlift “willing” Ghanaians, quarantine them for a period of 14 days and reintegrate them back into society if they test negative for COVID-19 or isolate them for treatment if they test positive.
This is a really great idea and the government has been effusively praised for its efforts to bring stranded citizens back home. But, in truth, there’s been a lot of sweet talk regarding the processes of the evacuation.
“For several weeks, the Foreign Ministry and its Missions abroad, together with key MDAs such as The Interior and Aviation Ministries, and the Ghana Immigration Service have been working closely to bring back home stranded Ghanaians in several countries,” Foreign Affairs Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said in Parliament.
“To ensure a well-coordinated evacuation exercise, Government decided to undertake the exercise in phases.”
But while the Minister was assuring in her delivery, what she didn’t say was how tedious it was going to be for “poor” Ghanaians to get evacuated.
An expensive evacuation – affordable only by the rich
With all that has been said, you only need to see the letters from the various Ghanaian Embassies to conclude that this whole evacuation is tailor-made for only the rich.
For persons who are stranded in foreign countries, asking them to buy their own ticket may perhaps be acceptable. But requesting of them to pay GHc600 each night for their 14-day quarantine is not exactly friendly and does not paint the picture of a government that is interested in evacuating “poor” Ghanaians abroad.
To give some perspective, the Embassies are asking stranded Ghanaians to cover their travel and mandatory quarantine. As if that is not enough, government has selected three luxurious hotels in Accra – Airport View, Alisa and Marriot – as the only places they can be quarantined.
These are hotels that don’t come cheap. Airport View charges GHc500 per night, which means any stranded Ghanaian who is quarantined there will spend at least GHc7,000 for the 14-day quarantine period.
Alisa and Marriot are also charging GHc600 per night, translating into GHc8,400 for anyone who is quarantined for the 14 days period. Even worse, the Foreign Affairs Ministry says the quarantine period could be extended to 21 days depending of individual cases.
For persons like Zeenatu, paying for even the flight ticket is a headache. According to her, she has been asked to pay 750 euros (almost GHc5,000) for the flight ticket alone, in order to be able return to Ghana.
How many stranded Ghanaians can afford these amounts? Surely, only the rich can, and it is they alone who would eventually be evacuated if the government proves to be intransigent.
“Can you imagine us being asked to pay all these monies when we are already stranded? We are suffering and we want to come home, but most of us can’t afford these amounts,” Zeenatu laments, letting out a silent hum.
“A lot of students are here [stranded]. Everyone is complaining; where are we going to get the money from?
“If we had this kind of money, would we call ourselves “stranded”? Anybody that has this kind of money would prefer to stay abroad and relax till the borders open.”
Stranded, dejected and without hope
While most stranded Ghanaians undoubtedly want to return home, their pockets won’t allow it. Zeenatu says the feeling among those in Turkey is that is dejection and despair, while others are consoling themselves with tears and hope.
The Ghana government has already evacuated hundreds of Ghanaians. However, those in Turkey are in a more difficult situation because the country is not in the European Union (EU).
To this end, they will need to travel by bus to Germany before boarding a plane to Ghana, says Zeenatu. “We have been stuck here for some time and it seems like we are invisible. I read a publication on the countries that our government is planning to evacuate Ghanaians from, but Turkey was not part of them.
“People have been crying. I’ve personally been crying for days now, I’ve totally lost hope but I feel like God is with me. I hope that someone will be able to hear my story and for the President to quickly address our plight.”
Zeenatu believes, and rightly so, that the government can, and must, do better if it really wants to evacuate all stranded Ghanaians. Hers, and that of many stranded Ghanaians, is not about them not wanting or “willing”, as the government would put it, to return home. Rather, it borders on an expensive evacuation plan – one that many simply cannot afford.
“They [government] are making it look so nice on TV that they are evacuating us, but the amount of money they are demanding makes it look more like extortion,” the student added.
A reasonable solution
Government definitely means well, per its plans to evacuate stranded Ghanaians. However, the evacuation process has not been the best. Not only is it expensive, giving passengers up to Tuesday, June 16, as a deadline to fulfil their financial obligations, or remain stranded wherever they are, is a bit inconsiderate.
Most of these stranded Ghanaians are ready to pay their way back home, so why not make it affordable to them? Why not suspend the idea of lodging them in two-star and four-star hotels which cost GHc500 and GHc600 per night? And why not quarantine them in hotels that charge less, ones that they can afford?
If government really wants to send the cavalry to bring back stranded Ghanaians, it should be considering the aforementioned suggestions.
Otherwise, only the rich will be able to afford this “expensive” evacuation. “I want to go back home,” Zeenatu appeals. “My government can make it possible, they must make it possible. Is that too much to ask?”
Pulse Editorial is the opinion of the editorial team of Pulse. It does not represent the opinion of the organization Pulse.