Gulf Master: innovative software program helps control illegal migration from Ghana


Large numbers of skilled and unskilled youth are leaving Ghana in search of greener pastures, with many departing illegally through the airport without the correct working visas, or requisite documents to enable them to stay and work legally.

Lydia Achel, Chief Superintendent of the Ghana Immigration Service, says this is creating a development crisis. ‘It’s causing a massive brain drain and is crippling Ghana’s economy.’

Ghanaians exiting the country account for approximately 40 per cent of Ghana’s human resources’ loss. It’s an urgent situation Lydia and her 66-member team focus on around the clock, especially because many youth end up being smuggled or trafficked to the Gulf States.

The team—officers of the Kotoka International Airport Intelligence Unit—handle migrant smuggling, human trafficking, document fraud, immigration and emigration-related offences. They collate and analyse data to make recommendations on exits and entries through the airport.

It’s complex work, and Lydia uses the knowledge and skills she built while completing a double Master of Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism and Master of International Security Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney (2011), under the Australia Awards program.

Lydia’s studies focused on public sector reform. ‘I built problem-solving skills and learned how to identify a problem, communicate it accurately to officials and my team, research solutions and implement them for major change,’ she says.

On her return home, amongst others, Lydia spearheaded the development of Gulf Master, an innovative software program her team relies on to screen and profile those entering and exiting the airport, more specifically, to the gulf region.

The Ghana Immigration Service uses the data to generate detailed daily and monthly reports to inform the government and stakeholders in the migration field about trends, modes of leaving the country, and important information on human smugglers, traffickers, and suspected recruiters of terrorists for interrogation.

‘We’ve divided our team into three groups of 22 officials so we can work 24 hours a day,’ she says. ‘This means we can continually generate up-to-date, relevant and comprehensive data on Ghanaians travelling to the Gulf to assist the government for planning and policy purposes.’

The statistics gathered are used for many purposes, including to project migration flow and rationalise recruitment methods. Lydia says ‘recently, policy advice led to a temporary ban on securing unskilled labour directly in homes, such as for cleaning and cooking roles, domestic help, in the Gulf. This has been a real problem for many Ghanaian workers, especially young women between the ages of 18 and 28 who can be taken advantage of, including by not getting paid.’

The team’s efforts are producing results, with several interventions and arrests made and a case taken to Court. ‘This is a social intervention,’ she advises. ‘We’re seeking to preserve the dignity of, and protect, Ghanaian unskilled and semi-skilled youth.’

While women are particularly vulnerable, many young males are also regularly leaving Ghana, using unauthorized routes to make their way to Europe through deserts. ‘They’ve been spotted crossing in motor vehicles, bicycles and on foot,’ she says. ‘We have to be rigorous at our borders as a result.’ More work is planned to enhance the software and extend its use to other border points.

As Chief Superintendent, Lydia has many other duties, including overseeing the Document Fraud Office and making specialized training recommendations for her team. In her role, she relies on her strengthened communication skills, emotional intelligence, self-awareness and confidence to tackle her work.

‘My time in Australia taught me these skills and about the importance of strategy,’ she asserts. ‘It’s satisfying to support the Government in implementing the Immigration Act 2000 and see our work making a real difference to the negative effects of our migration brain drain.’

Photo Credit: Lydia Achel

Feature from Alumni News Volume 28.

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