Apr 29, 2021

Ghana as the EU’s Migration Partner

Actors, Interests, and Recommendations for European Policymakers
Photo of a travel document held by an African migrant from Ghana
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Despite a seemingly close partnership between Europe and Ghana on migration, their relations are full of pitfalls. Ghana’s interests in the diaspora, labor migration, and regional free movement are often at odds with Europeans’ focus on irregular migration and return policies. This report provides German and European politicians, policy experts, and practitioners with concrete and actionable ideas for how to aim for more informed migration discussions with their Ghanaian counterparts in the future.



Note: The online version of the text does not contain footnotes. To see all of the citations as well as the correct page references mentioned in the online text, please refer to the PDF version of the report here.

Key Recommendations

  • German and European policymakers should scale up employment-based legal migration channels –as proposed in the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum and Germany’s Skilled Migration Act – to enable circular and seasonal migration. The win-win concept of circular migration should finally become a workable reality.
  • German and European policymakers should incentivize a lowering of the high costs of intra-African remittances. With lower transfer fees, migrants may take greater interest in using formal channels, which would, in turn, ensure that remittances effectively contribute to the fiscus. With close to half of all its emigrants in the ECOWAS region, Ghana is likely to support policy changes at the ECOWAS level that could result in higher remittances.
  • German and European policymakers should adopt a new narrative to speak about migration in the ECOWAS region. Instead of focusing on migration control, they should focus on regional free movement. They should invite policymakers in the region to decrease protectionist policies that continue to hinder Ghana and other ECOWAS countries from reaping the benefits of regional free movement.

How European Funds Have Come to Shape Migration Policy Maging in Ghana
Contrasting Ghanaian and European Interests in the Migration Partnership
About the Project, Author, and the Editors


Since its 2015 migration crisis, the European Union (EU) has increasingly focused its migration policies beyond its borders, deepening its cooperation with third countries, many of them in Africa. Ghana is one of these countries. While it is not a primary country of origin of migrants in the post-Brexit EU, the West African nation is an important European partner in the region. After Nigeria, Ghana boasts the second strongest economy of the fifteen members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), resulting in important migration flows from and to the rest of the region. The country also displays traits that are common across the ECOWAS region, including a strong focus on the diaspora and emigration, as well as a comparative reluctance to formalize immigration opportunities for citizens of other West African countries. The Ghanaian case is, therefore, indicative of both migration policy within ECOWAS – which is building up its own free movement regime – and the EU’s relations with other ECOWAS members. 

As relations between the EU and ECOWAS countries have deepened, they have become stretched and sometimes marred by conflicting political and policy orientations. The EU’s migration relationship to Ghana is a case in point. Although the EU invests in the ECOWAS regional free movement regime, seeing benefits in helping West African migrants find local opportunities, it, in practice, focuses most heavily on bilateral relations to individual ECOWAS states. In these bilateral relations, the EU and its member states tend to emphasize the return of unsuccessful asylum seekers, control of Europe’s borders, disruption of transit routes for irregular migrants, and – most damaging to the progress of the ECOWAS free movement regime – ways to keep would-be migrants from leaving their home countries. To further these migration objectives, European governments rely on various tools, primarily the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, their development agencies, and international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Ghana’s main migration interests are different from the EU’s. There, migration is generally perceived as a less salient policy issue, with other policy areas – for example, economic growth, health, poverty reduction, food security, and education – taking a front seat. Indeed, economic and development considerations heavily influence, if not dictate, migration policies. High on the Ghanaian government’s priority list are, therefore, forms of migration that contribute to the country’s economic development, such as the engagement of its sizable diaspora (which Ghana defines as including not only nationals abroad but also descendants of African slaves, see box on p.  13). It prioritizes securing safe and legal pathways to work abroad for Ghanaians, including low and unskilled workers. Because Ghana mainly attracts and contributes to migration within ECOWAS, its focus is squarely on regional migration. Its reluctance to formalize opportunities for immigrants from the region is, however, typical and plagues the ECOWAS system.

This paper analyzes the Euro-Ghanaian partnership on ­migration and answers three main questions:

What has been the impact of European engagement on migration governance in Ghana?

Which policy issues dominate the debate on migration in Ghana and with its European partners?

What should European policymakers know to be better prepared for future migration talks with their Ghanaian counterparts?

The first part of the paper gives an overview of the relevant actors in migration governance in Ghana. It focuses on the formulation and aftermath of its 2016 National Migration Policy (NMP), the country’s first attempt to create a comprehensive policy framework for migration and to harmonize a myriad of migration-related laws and regulations. Although the EU supported the NMP – a central piece of Ghana’s migration policy – it remains widely unimplemented. The second part of the paper investigates the partnership of Ghana and the EU on migration and focuses on the five priority areas that define that relationship. The third part offers six concrete policy recommendations to German and European politicians, policy experts, and practitioners to foster informed discussions on migration with their Ghanaian counterparts.

This paper is based on desk-based research, interviews conducted with Ghanaian officials between May and September 2020 (see List of Interviews Conducted in the annex), and discussions in the framework of the DGAP project “From Here to EU – How to Talk about Migration in Africa?” (see preface for more information).

How European Funds Have Come to Shape Migration Policymaking in Ghana

Migration Governance in Ghana: A Competitive Field 

Ghana’s migration policymaking hinges on a multitude of actors, including many government ministries and agencies, regional bodies, international organizations, and international donors.


Three government ministries play a leading role in Ghana’s migration governance. The first is the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which primarily formulates immigration policies and hosts the Ghana Immigration Service and the Migration Unit. It also played a significant role in the development of Ghana’s 2016 National Migration Policy (NMP), the framework document that is supposed to expand Ghana’s migration policy development from emigration to immigration. (In practice, however, the NMP focuses strongly on the former at the expense of the latter.) In addition, the Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Migration, which coordinates migration-related issues among government ministries, reports to the MOI.

The second key ministry is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration (MFARI). It leads the cooperation with partner countries and international organizations on returns and diaspora affairs – although, even on these core issues, its authority is not absolute. For instance, the creation of the Diaspora Affairs Unit at the MFARI in 2012 was meant to help finalize a Diaspora Engagement Policy (DEP). In 2017, however, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo transferred responsibility for the DEP to the newly created Diaspora Affairs Office at the Office of the President, which led to a high level of prioritization – and politicization – of diaspora policy. It also weakened the place of diaspora affairs in the MFARI and in Ghana’s institutional structure. Ahead of the general elections of December 2020, the Office of the President worked in vain to launch the DEP.

Lastly, the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations is responsible for labor migration. It has been actively involved in the development of the National Labor Migration Policy (NLMP), which was supported by IOM, funded by the EU, and launched in 2018. Complementing the NMP, the document specifically promotes the governance of labor migration from and to Ghana and the protection of Ghanaian emigrants and immigrants to Ghana. It also provides guidelines on safe and regular migration for immigrants in Ghana and Ghanaians looking to move abroad.

Other relevant migration policy actors include ministries such as the Ministry of Gender; not to mention international organizations, especially IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; donor governments and their development arms, such as Germany’s GIZ or the UK’s DFID; and regional actors, especially ECOWAS and the African Union (AU). Academics have also played a large role in migration policy development in Ghana, specifically the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana in Accra. As for the EU, it has been trying to steer migration policy reforms not just in Ghana but across the continent, particularly in regions of origin such as Western Africa. These efforts have followed a dual rationale of reinforcing regional free movement on the one hand and reducing irregular migration from the continent on the other.

As in many other countries, the coordination of migration authorities in Ghana is difficult, and tensions between them abound. Conflict arose between the foreign and interior ministries over which institution was to lead the development of the NMP. These tensions deepened when staff from the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), which is part of the MOI, supported missions to Europe led by diplomats from the MFARI to identify Ghanaian migrants with a view to repatriating them.  Meanwhile, other ministries, including the Ministry of Gender, sought to gain access to the NMP policy process in view of benefiting from related funds. As one civil servant put it, all ministries see themselves as legitimate actors of migration management.

This inter-ministerial competition is exacerbated by external involvement and funding. EU funding streams have brought some actors to the fore – such as the GIS and its host, the Ministry of Interior. The pair are perceived as “Europe’s darlings” due to the share of funds they receive.

In part because of these tensions, migration policy in Ghana is heavily politicized – or more precisely, particular aspects of migration policy are. This means that policy development is long and tedious, as is implementation. Progress on migration governance frameworks has also been fragmentary. The National Labor Migration Policy (NLMP) was developed and adopted quickly – within a year – due to policymakers’ interest in finding avenues of migration for Ghanaian workers. But the processes for adopting a Diaspora Engagement Policy (DEP) and the National Migration Policy (NMP) has dragged on for years, victims of the high political stakes surrounding diaspora policy (See Figure 2).


National Migration Policy: Big Plans, Little Implementation

The NMP is the central pillar of Ghanaian migration policy development and can be called a “do-it-all document.” It addresses all areas of migration, including internal migration, irregular migration, urbanization, human trafficking, labor migration, border management, diaspora engagement, forced displacement, citizenship, climate change, and migration data management. The NMP also looks at cross-cutting issues such as gender, health, education, vulnerable groups, tourism and cultural heritage, trade and services, and natural resources.

But today, more than four years after its launch, the NMP has yet to be fully implemented. The institutional structure meant to implement the policy – the proposed Ghana National Migration Commission – is yet to be established. The delay in implementation can be explained by two main factors. First, the NMP finds itself entangled in party politics. The fact that new governments pursue different policy initiatives and shelve policies from previous administrations is a significant challenge for Ghana. For instance, the government led by the National Democratic Congress, which launched the NMP in 2016, lost power to the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) that same year. The NPP’s limited involvement in the development of that policy may explain why Ghana’s current government distanced itself from the NMP and has expressed the desire to revisit it since it assumed power in 2017. Also, the over-engagement of politicians in power, in particular in fields such as diaspora engagement, comes at the expense of civil servants and other non-governmental actors; such engagement, thus, represents a challenge to the sustainability of policy once politicians are voted out

Second, Ghanaian actors lack ownership over the NMP. External actors have played an outsize role not only in the drafting of the NMP, but also in some aspects of its implementation. It was thanks to funds from the EU and technical oversight by IOM that the project of an NMP was first picked up in 2012 and finalized in 2016. While Ghanaian officials welcome EU-funded IOM initiatives in principle, they deplore the way Ghanaian institutions have been circumvented in their implementation – from the design of consultation processes to the employment of international staff to steer the work. Critics point out that the NMP was basically co-drafted by international and European actors active in Ghana. Tellingly, the Ministry of Interior, the domestic custodian of the policy, outsourced the drafting process to consultants from the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana, under the steering and technical oversight of IOM. This lack of ownership is a common feature that can be observed in other West African countries that are associated with the EU’s Migration Partnership Framework, which was launched in 2016.

Despite these blockades, some parts of the NMP are being operationalized. So far, most concern projects that focus on border control and migration management – two policy fields that reflect the EU’s rather than Ghana’s priorities. Furthermore, this kind of partial operationalization runs against the core aim of the NMP, which was meant to be comprehensive.

Well before the NMP’s launch in 2016 and even before the negotiations around it kicked off in 2012 (see Figure 2), Ghana itself had come around to the idea of ending its rather fragmented approach to migration. The Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda II (GSGDA 2010–2013) suggests synchronizing all of Ghana’s policies that are relevant to migration into a single one under the header “managing migration for national development.” However, the GSGDA’s recommendations were not operationalized and suffered from an overall lack of budget and prioritization by the government. Ministries were left with the prerogative of implementing the GSGDA’s recommendations in order of relevance, meaning that migration fell well behind other priority issues.

The NMP follows a whole-of-government approach that is, consequently, relatively new to Ghana. The policy is novel because it requires substantial coordination and mainstreaming in a multitude of policy areas – an approach that was promoted by the AU and ECOWAS. Both the 2006 AU Migration Policy Framework for Africa and 2008 ECOWAS Common Approach on Migration explicitly encouraged member states to develop NMPs. The EU supported migration reform processes in Ghana, as it did elsewhere in the region. But despite the backing from international actors, Ghana’s technical and coordination capacities for implementation remain low. For the NMP to take proper effect, it needs, for example, to be streamlined into Ghana’s development plan. But despite the fact that the Ghana National Development and Planning Commission is the government partner in charge of mainstreaming migration issues into development plans, this work was largely taken over by the IOM in 2018, when it set up a new inter-agency technical working group to implement and monitor the streamlining process. Given these layered challenges, it remains unclear whether the NMP’s implementation will proceed more smoothly in the future.

Contrasting Ghanaian and European Interests in the Migration Partnership

Three primary issues – all tied to Ghana’s economic health and domestic politics – top the country’s priority list: diaspora engagement, labor migration, and regional free movement within ECOWAS. European partners keep emphasizing that they are interested in these issues as well, for instance in the 2016 Joint Declaration on Ghana-EU Cooperation on Migration. A lot of their practical attention and funds, however, tend to center on the two issues of irregular migration and forced returns. Ghanaians and Europeans seem to look in different directions when they talk about migration. Acknowledging this divergence may be a good step toward closing the gap.

Ghana’s Global Diaspora: A Coveted Asset 

Diaspora engagement trumps all other migration issues in Ghana. There are political, historical, and economic reasons for this preference.

First, Ghana’s emigrant population is sizable. As of 2017, an estimated 970,000 Ghanaians lived abroad – mainly in neighboring Nigeria, but also in the United States and the United Kingdom, with smaller shares in Côte d’Ivoire, Italy, and Germany (see Figure 3).

Emigration from Ghana began to slowly increase after 1957 when the country became independent from British colonial rule. In the 1960s, it mainly concerned students and skilled professionals from the ruling elite who mostly chose the United Kingdom and the United States as their destination. Others, in the spirit of Pan-Africanism championed by Ghana’s first president Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, emigrated to other African countries. International emigration from Ghana became significant during the 1970s and 1980s, a time of political instability and economic hardship within both the country and its sub-region.


Second, the diaspora is seen as a source of economic and human capital. In 2019, personal remittances received in Ghana amounted to $3.5 billion, 5.4 percent of the year’s GDP. This is a thirty-fold increase compared to 2009, when the country received a mere $114 million (see Figure 4). The sharp increase in the amount of remittances received can be explained by the increasing use of formal channels for money transfers and improvements on the part of the Bank of Ghana to produce data on remittances. The government aims to capitalize on this development. In January 2020, following the Year of Return, the Ministry of Finance announced the establishment of the African Sankofa Savings Account, a diaspora investment fund to provide investment opportunities for the diaspora community worldwide.

Ghana also sees diaspora engagement as a lever to attract skilled Ghanaian professionals from abroad to support the country’s development agenda. Brain drain is an ongoing challenge. Estimates indicate that around 56 percent of doctors and 24 percent of nurses trained in Ghana are employed abroad, mainly in the United Kingdom and United States. Ghana’s educational sector is also challenged; an estimated average of 50 percent of faculty positions in public and polytechnic universities are vacant. Consequently, bringing Ghana’s talents and highly skilled professionals home is an essential part of the mandate of the President’s Diaspora Affairs Office.


Third, Ghanaian politics also relies heavily on the diaspora for financial contributions. Both of the country’s main political parties – the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) – count on diaspora associations and party chapters abroad for funding. Notably, the Diaspora Affairs Office has a service dedicated to lobbying for the increased political participation of the Ghanaian diaspora. Ghanaian governments also recruit members of the diaspora for high-level positions, which is quite unusual compared to other countries where a long time abroad is more of a hindrance than a help in entering politics. Ghanaians abroad are not, however, granted voting rights. The implementation of the 2006 Representation of the People Amendment Act sets out the organization of the overseas vote but remains unimplemented. In 2017, the Human Rights Division of the High Court in Accra ordered the Ghanaian electoral commission to implement the Representation of the People Amendment Act for the 2020 presidential elections, a decision that gained traction in the context of the coronavirus crisis, which stranded many abroad. Ultimately, however, the electoral commission was unable to register Ghanaians abroad to vote in this election – and it cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.

Last, Ghana’s colonial past plays a defining role in today’s conceptualization of the diaspora (see info below). Ghana was the epicenter of the British slave trade. For almost 150 years, millions of Africans – mostly from Western and Central Africa – were shipped to the Americas and Caribbean from Ghana. Against this background, the country’s Pan-Africanist legacy has tinted the concept of diaspora with an ideological undertone. According to this narrative, Ghana has a moral responsibility for the emancipation of descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. Therefore, the Ghanaian definition of diaspora embraces all African descendants of the slave trade.

What Do You Mean?
Why Ghana’s Definitions of Diaspora and Return Differ from the EU’s

Although Ghana uses migration terms that are
similar to those used in Europe, they often have different
meanings or connotations. Ghana’s definition
of “diaspora,” for example, does not merely refer
to Ghanaian nationals abroad. Instead, it includes
all African descendants of the transatlantic slave
trade. This wider definition is a legacy of the Pan-African
political affinity that grew in the aftermath
of Ghana’s independence from British colonial rule.

The politically loaded term “return” is also defined
more broadly in Ghana than in Europe. In Ghana,
return means three things: the return of all African
descendants of the slave trade, including those who
might never have been to Ghana before; the voluntary
return of Ghanaian nationals who have emigrated;
and forced returns, including deportations from
Europe or elsewhere. The first two meanings have
positive connotations – as shown, for example, by
Ghana’s prioritization of good diaspora relations.
Ghanaian policymakers take pride in the country’s
role of homeland to those Africans taken forcibly
from their shores.


This narrative has policy implications. In 2002, under the Citizenship Act and Right to Abode, it became easier for people of African descent to obtain visas, residency permits, and citizenship rights. With the 2000 Ghana Citizen Act Dual Citizenship Scheme, Ghana amended its citizenship laws to allow dual citizenship. As a symbolic landmark, President Akufo-Addo declared 2019 the Year of Return to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves to America. The year-long commemoration included spiritual and birth-right rituals for the returnees. As part of this initiative, 126 descendants of slaves from the United States and the Caribbean were granted Ghanaian citizenship.

The Challenge of Securing Safe Pathways for Unskilled Laborers

Although labor emigration is another important issue on Ghana’s migration agenda, the country struggles to secure safe pathways for its nationals, especially unskilled laborers, to work abroad.

While nearly half of Ghana’s emigrants are highly skilled – 46 percent, the highest rate in West Africa – the other half of the country’s emigrants is low skilled or unskilled. Among them, an estimated 4,000 Ghanaians are officially employed in the Gulf States and Middle East (mainly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan); half of those are domestic workers. The abuse and exploitation they often face is an issue of prime concern for both the government and general public. In order to prevent irregular migration to the Gulf and potential abuses, the government of Ghana had created a specific visa scheme, Visa-20, which was granted to labor migrants planning to travel to those states for domestic work. Although many do find employment and migrate through legitimate overseas employment agencies, registered travel agencies and so-called connection men are known to forge travel documents and provide misleading information about the nature and conditions of work, often putting laborers in abusive and exploitative situations. Faced with continuing reports on the deplorable situation of some laborers in the Gulf, Ghana’s Labor Ministry backtracked and, in 2017, banned the issuance of the Visa-20. Nonetheless, labor migration to the Gulf persists.

Libya is another destination country for many Ghanaian laborers. In spite of the unstable situation and dangers they often face there, Ghanaians make up around 10 percent of all sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya. More than 1,000 Ghanaian migrants who sought to escape hardship situations were returned between 2017 and 2019 under the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration (they were mainly from Libya, but also from Niger). Yet many returnees are willing to make the journey again. Far from being a springboard for irregular migration across the Mediterranean, Libya’s oil-rich economy continues to provide high-reward and attractive work opportunities. In addition, some Ghanaian youth – both skilled and unskilled – continue to see migration as a do or die affair.

As demonstrated by the government’s push for a labor migration policy and its attempts to develop labor migration schemes, Ghana is trying to find regular pathways for its potential migrants. In 2019, for example, the government aimed to send 3,000 trained nurses to Germany through its Work Abroad initiative with the intention of replicating it with other countries. In 2020, 95 nurses were sent to Barbados on a two-year contract. These examples of temporary and circular migration are considered win-win arrangements for the countries of destination and of origin as well as for migrants themselves. Furthermore, Ghana sees a double benefit in such projects. First, they provide legal and safe pathways to migration and, second, they create “ways to repatriate migrants’ pensions and investments to Ghana, which can serve as a source of capital investment for the government.”

ECOWAS and the Limits of Regional Free Movement in West Africa

As a stable democracy and key economic player in West Africa, Ghana – together with Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria – attracts most of the immigration from the ECOWAS region. In 2019, Ghana was home to half a million (466,800) migrants who made up 1.5 percent of its total population. Most of them are ECOWAS nationals; indeed, 74 percent of all migrants to Ghana come from just four origin countries: Togo, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. Similarly, close to half of all Ghanaian emigrants are found in the same four ECOWAS countries: Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Togo (see Figure 5). Overall, Nigeria remains the primary destination of Ghanaian emigrants because of its economic attractiveness and shared features such as language (English and Pidgin English). 


This high level of regional mobility is anchored in ECOWAS policies. The ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and the Right of Residence and Establishment, which were presented in 1979 and ratified by all member states in 1980, guarantee free entry and a 90-day visa-free period for ECOWAS nationals.

Yet, to this day, the right of establishment – i.e., the right of citizens of ECOWAS countries to settle freely in other ECOWAS countries – faces resistance. Many member states, including Ghana, tend to prefer protectionist policies. The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act, for example, only allows investment of more than $1 million from immigrants and prohibits non-Ghanaians from engaging in retail businesses and petty trading in designated marketplaces. However, many consider the $1 million requirement for investment in Ghana excessive. In 2013, associations of Nigerian traders brought Ghana to the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for enforcing the GIPC Act.

Anti-immigrant sentiment adds another layer of challenges. There have been repeated clashes and attacks between Nigerian and Ghanaian traders as well as forced closures of Nigerian shops. While Nigerian media report the events as xenophobic attacks, Ghanaian media sometimes consider them to be a matter of conflicting legislations. The situation has been a major source of tension in bilateral relations between the two countries.

Irregular Migration: Small Volume, Outsize EU Interest

The external dimension of the EU’s migration policy has brought irregular migration to the forefront of its relationship with third partner countries. This is demonstrated in political commitments tied to financial incentives, specifically in the Western African region. Following funding incentives, Ghana has taken on parts of the EU agenda on irregular migration and has been very cooperative on areas such as border management and institutional capacity building.

The EU’s emphasis on irregular migration has, for example, come to dominate the NMP. The majority of projects implemented with EU funds to operationalize the NMP precisely target migration control. These include: IOM’s Ghana Integrated Migration Management Approach (GIMMA) project that was launched in 2014; a similar project on Strengthening Border and Migration Management in Ghana (SMMIG) that was launched by ICMPD in 2018; and sensitization campaigns on irregular migration that IOM and the Ghanaian government continue to organize with the support of EU funding.

Yet, compared to irregular arrivals from other nations, irregular migration from Ghana to the EU is small in scope (see Figure 6). Following a surge from 2015 to 2016, irregular border crossings have dropped to their pre-2013 levels with less than 500 detections in 2019. Similarly, the number of Ghanaian nationals in irregular situations in the EU has remained stable since 2010, with the majority found in Germany (2,090), the UK (620), and Greece (395). The limited scope of this phenomenon also partly explains Ghana’s limited interest in cooperating on forced returns.


Because of the relatively small scope of irregular migration, Ghanaian policymakers do not perceive irregular migration as a prominent issue for the country – as might be the case in neighboring Nigeria. Their primary concern regarding irregular movements relates to issues of the smuggling and trafficking of Ghanaians in Europe, the Middle East, and within West Africa. It also focuses on the high prevalence of internal child trafficking in Ghana, which is linked to child labor in fishing, mining, and agriculture. Therefore, for Ghana, as with the small number of its citizens in the Gulf, the situation of its citizens in Europe is primarily a question of duty of care.

Forced Returns: A Politically Hazardous Area

Despite the increase of EU-funded initiatives on return and reintegration, Ghana has shown little interest in cooperating with the EU on forced returns. The 2016 Joint Declaration mentioned a mutual interest in cooperation on returns, but it ultimately only contributed to a slight increase of the return rate, i.e., back to pre-2014 levels that had hovered around 40 percent (see Figure 7). In 2019, the three European countries that returned the highest number of Ghanaians – both voluntarily and forcibly – were the UK (365), Germany (250), and Netherlands (150). To date, no formal readmission agreement exists between Ghana and the EU or its member states.


Ghana’s lack of commitment on forced returns from the EU is easily explained as it stems from policy priorities and an assessment of political risk. Importantly, cooperating on forced returns can put the government at odds with its diaspora policy. It risks harming diaspora engagement efforts, reducing remittances and investments, and potentially pushing unemployment at home. Politically, opposition parties can criticize return cooperation with the EU which risks undermining the legitimacy of the ruling party.


The following recommendations cannot close the gap between the often diverging migration interests of the Ghanaian and European governments. They can, however, give German and European politicians, policy experts, and practitioners concrete and actionable ideas for how to aim for more informed migration discussions with their Ghanaian counterparts in the future.

Giving Ownership Means Giving Up Control: To Deliver Better Results, Ensure that National Stakeholders Are On Board when Overhauling Migration Policy

Europeans’ good intentions of giving ownership to national authorities are sometimes at odds with their urge to keep oversight and control over European funds. The process of developing and implementing Ghana’s National Migration Policy can serve as a warning of a process that suffered from insufficient local ownership. Ghana needs the financial and technical support of European donors and international organizations. But national stakeholders – including non-state actors such as researchers as well as civil society and local actors such as city-level officials – should be at the center of policy elaboration and implementation.

EU-funded projects should, therefore, review their monitoring and evaluation processes to ensure the involvement and active participation of national stakeholders at every step. The practice of developing, implementing, and managing projects through contracting international or European organizations while Ghanaian actors are mere participants does not encourage local ownership.

At worst, such initiatives are considered extended job creation opportunities for Europeans. At best, they are simply not welcomed by Ghanaian actors, reducing their level of cooperation and buy-in. If Europeans want to aid migration policy development in Ghana or other coutries, they need to face the fact that this can only result from ceding some control. Otherwise, new initiatives will exist on paper, but not change reality.

Get the Right People to the Table: Today’s Power Figures Are Different from Tomorrow’s

Because policies conducted by any government are likely to be revised after a change to that government, it is imperative for European partners to involve the two main political parties in any future discussions on migration policies and debates in Ghana. After President Akufo-Addo’s election in 2017, for example, he distanced himself from the recently validated NMP and placed the Diaspora Engagement Policy under the newly created Diaspora Affairs Office at the Office of the President. Following the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections – and the subsequent challenge of the results on which the Ghanaian Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Akufo-Addo – the government might prioritize the NMP and Ghana’s partnership with the EU differently.

Just as in Europe, party politics can tip the scales of the debate and provoke policy shifts. In the same vein, German and European policymakers should be aware that discussing migration agreements during an election year or right after a government change may not be as effective as doing it during the earlier part of a legislative period.

Be Clear-Eyed about Inter-Ministerial Tension

Just as in Europe, the field of actors involved in migration governance is crowded. Turf disputes are the norm in democratic governance, and Ghana is no exception. Europeans should, therefore, be familiar with – or at least know of – the main actors that play a role in migration policymaking in Ghana. They should also have a clear understanding of how they are perceived by other actors and of tensions between them. Only such understanding can prevent the inadvertent worsening of tensions as has happened, for example, through the channeling of funds and staffing of identification missions (see section 2.1 for details).

Support Ghana’s Diaspora Engagement and Labor Migration Policies

Ghana seeks to attract investments from the diaspora and increase low-cost remittance transfers and ways to repatriate the savings and pensions of Ghanaian migrants abroad. Following the launch of its National Labor Migration Policy (NLMP), Ghana is looking to secure safe pathways for employment overseas, especially for unskilled or low skilled laborers. 

European policymakers should seize this opportunity and scale up employment-based legal migration – as proposed in the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum and in Germany’s Skilled Migration Act – to enable circular and seasonal solutions to migrate. This is crucial as Ghanaian policymakers are simultaneously looking to attract skilled emigrants back home to counter excessive brain drain with the Diaspora Engagement Policy. Legal migration opportunities need to be communicated well to target audiences, for instance through the Ghanaian-German Centre for Jobs, Migration, and Reintegration (GGC) or through the delegations of national Chambers of Commerce in Ghana. 

Incentivize ECOWAS Governments to Reduce Protectionist Policies

Because most immigration to and emigration from Ghana happens within ECOWAS, regional mobility is an essential part of Ghana’s migration dynamics. But free movement as aimed for in the ECOWAS Protocol has yet to come into full force and effect. Protectionist tendencies remain strong, especially in countries with larger economies, like Ghana, that receive as much, if not more, migrants as they produce in ECOWAS. These governments are wary of the implications that full migration regimes and immigration policies would have on their domestic labor markets. The same concerns over foreign competition hamper regional integration progress across the continent, as seen with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the AU’s Continental Free Movement Protocol.

EU efforts to support regional free movement have done little to fight these grievances. Instead, EU and German policymakers should provide incentives for ECOWAS governments to let go of protectionist policies. Lowering the costs of intra-African remittances may be a good place to start. The cost of sending remittances on the continent stands high at 9 percent and has seen little improvement in recent years despite international commitments. With lower transfer fees, migrants may have a greater interest in using formal channels, which would, in turn, ensure that remittances effectively contribute to the fiscus. This could help unlock other positive milestones for migrant workers, including simplified trade regimes and the right to establishment.

With close to half of all its emigrants in the ECOWAS region, Ghana is likely to support policy changes at the ECOWAS level that could result in higher remittances. After his election in 2017, President Akufo-Addo had shown a strong commitment to securing oportunities for African youths in Africa. The promise of increased opportunities to migrate in the region should be music to his ears. 

Refrain from Promoting a Narrative of Migration Control in ECOWAS

European policymakers take an ambivalent approach to ECOWAS. While they support the expansion of regional integration (see recommendation 4.5), they also continue to favor bilateral relations with member states – in particular, to counter north-bound irregular migration. This dual approach may have run against the regional leadership of ECOWAS; it certainly provides ground for member states to delay the full implementation of regional free movement. This leads to skewed migration regimes across the region that favor the diaspora and emigration at the expense of immigration. It also leaves immigration actors devoid of their mandate and competing over other migration issues. This is the case in Ghana, where the Ministry of Interior, despite a mandate on immigration, has become the front-runner for migration policy as a whole.

Policymakers in Europe can play their part to attenuate these policy imbalances and ministerial frictions. They should refrain from promoting a narrative of migration control in ECOWAS. Instead, they should invite member states such as Ghana to push free movement and immigration in the region further. This is essential to reaping the benefits of regional free movement  and integration in the future. 

About the Project

This paper is published as part of the project “From Here to EU: How to Talk about Migration in Africa? An Awareness Campaign for European Policymakers.” The one-year project is led by the Migration Program of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and funded by Stiftung Mercator.

Goals: This project aims to inform German and European policymakers about migration debates and policies in select African countries to inform their present and future communication with representatives from that conti-nent. The results aim to inform the European Union-African Union summit planned for 2021. 
Its research provides insights on migration policies and their framing in five significant countries of origin, transit, and destination of migrants in Afri-ca: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tunisia, and South Africa. Drawing lessons from these national contexts, the project develops policy recommendations for German and European politicians, policy experts, and practitioners to fos-ter a more constructive debate about future African-European cooperation on migration. 


  1. Two closed-door expert conferences under the Chatham House Rule that brought together policymakers and experts from Brussels and Berlin with African country experts in the fall of 2020
  2. Four country case studies, authored by African country experts on migration policies and practices in Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia, and South Africa
  3. One summary analysis, authored by DGAP experts, that distills the main lessons from the country case studies and the Chatham House discussions
  4. One public online event to present the main findings of the project and link it to other initiatives in the growing field of migration cooperation between Europe and Africa

About the Author and Editors:

Dr. Kwaku Arhin-Sam is an international migration researcher. He holds a PhD from Jacobs University Bremen and the University of Bremen. He currently heads the Friedensau Institute for Evaluation. Previously, Arhin-Sam worked as a research fellow at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute, Freiburg, where he is still an associate fellow. Focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, Arhin-Sam’s research interests include migration governance, transnational migration, diasporas, return migration and reintegration, migration policy analysis, and the politics of identity and belonging.

Victoria Rietig heads the Migration Program of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). Prior to her current role, she served as an independent expert for migration, asylum, and refugee issues, advising government offices and foundations, including the German development agency GIZ, the US Department of State, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center of the US Department of Homeland Security. Before that, she worked at think tanks in Washington, DC, including as a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a fellow at the Atlantic Council, and a senior migration fellow at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) at Johns Hopkins University. She also served as a consultant for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in New York. Rietig received a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University with a focus on human trafficking and forced migration, preceded by a master’s from Freie Universität Berlin with a focus on migration and integration.

Alia Fakhry is an external consultant supporting DGAP’s Migration Program. She coordinates the project “From Here to EU: How to Talk about Migration in Africa? An Awareness Campaign for European Policymakers.” Fakhry previously worked for the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) on migration policy dialogues with national and local governments in the Mediterranean region. She has also researched and consulted for the EuroMeSCo network of the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed), UN-Habitat, and UNICEF Senegal. Prior to that, she supported academic research on forced migration at the French Institute for the Near East (Ifpo–CNRS) in Beirut and Amman. Fakhry holds a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Lund University and a bachelor’s degree from Sciences Po Bordeaux.

Bibliographic data

DGAP Report No. 7, April 29, 2021, 21 pp. This report is part of the DGAP project “From Here to EU: How to Talk about Migration in Africa? An Awareness Campaign for European Policymakers” funded by Stiftung Mercator.

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