Returning with Nothing but an Empty Bag: Topographies of Social Hope after Deportation to Ghana (Nauja Kleist), chapter in “Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration” Nauja Kleist and Dorte Thorsen (eds.), New York and London: Web: Routledge (2017).
This chapter addresses post-deportation life in Ghana, discussing two issues: first, social and economic repercusssions of deportation for deportees, their families and local community; second how high-risk migration projects continues to constitute a pathway of hope for some deportees. Based on longitudinal fieldwork in a rural Ghanaian town with long-established practices of overland and high-risk migration projects, the chapter shows that for most migrants and their families, deportation implies severe social and economic problems. Being deported, migrants can no longer send remittances to their families, which was often the main goal of their migration in the first place. Returning empty-handed and relying on their families for survival, their social and economic conditions are often worse than before migrating, constituting a very stigmatizing situation. Therefore, migrants consider returning empty-handed a personal and collective catastrophe, to be avoided at almost all costs. The chapter further shows a tension between local and state topographies of hope. The state narratives of societal hope is embedded in messages of economic optimism after the finding of oil in 2007, and revolves around a prosperous future in Ghana achieved through hard work and educational excellence, rather than migration. However, economic growth in Ghana is highly unequal, and there is a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the lack of economic opportunities for large swathes of the population. This is indeed the case for poor and low-skilled deportees and prospective migrants, who find themselves in a situation in which they have no access to legal migration and few prospects for prosperity through educational achievement. The potential of societal hope – that the hoped-for future may happen – is not distributed to this group, who cannot fulfill expectations from families, the local community and the themselves. In this situation, high-risk migration to Libya and other destinations remains a central element in the local topographies of hope as a means to a better life, despite the risks of crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean and the risk of deportation.