Death on the Sahara Desert: Touching story of a Ghanaian migrant

Death on the Sahara Desert: Touching story of a Ghanaian migrant
Source: Joseph Kobla Wemakor |
Date: 16-08-2018 Time: 11:08:46:pm
Prince Amoh-Ayensu

It is not so much about his death that brings the most pain, but the way he perished. It is a mystery.

Prince Amoh-Ayensu, 39, met his untimely death under mysterious circumstance while on transit through the Sahara Desert to Italy en route Libya. Prince would've loved to tell his success story only if he had survived the dreadful journey, just like her kid sister Cynthia did two years earlier after making it to Italy via the same route.

Many African migrants and refugees who travelled through similar routes to Europe have suffered all forms of abuse and torture while others are sold in open markets as slaves in Libya, others still are held against their will under inhumane conditions in exchange for ransom money by human traffickers.

Others too have perished under various circumstances but their stories are yet to be told. Prince's story must be told.

I caught up with Prince's elder brother, Samson Omenako Ayensu, a 41-year-old commercial bus (trotro) driver at Tema Station in Accra who gave a step-by-step account of what led to his brother’s untimely death, what informed his decision to journey through the desert instead by air and the bizarre circumstance surrounding his demise. At some point, he broke down in tears. It is a difficult story to tell.


Photo: Samson (R) narrates the story

Samson’s Account

“It all began somewhere in June, 2017 during the Ramadan when my junior brother told me he wanted to join our kid sister, Cynthia in Italy.  I was not happy about the idea so I quickly asked him, what informed his decision to embark on such a perilous journey knowing very well about her girlfriend’s plan to fly him over to Germany so they can both live together after having secured for herself the necessary legal documentations that would guarantee her peaceful stay. 

"So I asked him again, 'why are you worrying yourself to go the illegal way to Italy instead of waiting on your girlfriend to deliver on his promised at God's own time?' Which he did reply to me instantly by saying, 'oh no, I just want to go!'

"At that point in time, all I could say was 'you’re an adult, therefore, I can’t decide for you, if you so wish to, then you can go ahead, wishing him well'.   He told me his checks have proved that the road is clear of harassments from border guards as well as security officers, therefore, made up his mind to leave the following day.

"True to his words, he dressed up in a blue jeans trousers with a fashionable T-shirt top to match when I spotted him the next day very early in the morning. He had a small travelling bag packed with his personal belongings including cream cracker biscuits, water bottle. He bid me farewell as he headed towards Kaneshie Station in Accra to board a bus bound for Niger."

That was the last time Samson ever set eyes on his kid brother, Prince Amoh-Ayensu, until news of his bizarre demise hit him with shock.

Mysterious death

Samson narrates: “I got a phone call from him three days later in the evening around 4:00 pm, informing me of his safe arrival at Niger, with the plan to continue to Agadez (the Nigerien city where many West African migrants cross the Sahara Desert to Libya) to get to Libya before finally crossing the Mediterranean Sea in boat to Italy.

“Then in less than a week, let’s say in 4-5 days’ time I wasn’t hearing from him again so I called my Junior sister in Italy to find out whether he has heard of him or not. She told me no, but noted that she has called an agent at Libya who confirmed to her that he is on the way coming to Libya.

“I later got the news that the agent said there’s a lady on board the same pickup with him on the Sahara Desert who called the agent to inform him that my brother had kicked the bucket.

“All of a sudden, cold gripped me, I was thrown into a state of shock and disbelieve upon hearing my brother’s sad demise”.

According to Samson his sister in Italy revealed that the same lady who broke the sad news was very close to Prince during their time of transit. She was described as a nursing mother whom Prince had been assisting with her baby while on transit.

“She [the nursing mother] revealed that on their way to Libya, my brother started behaving strangely; he was heard murmuring strange words like someone who is struck with a ‘high fever," Samson stated.

“At a point in time, he even claimed seeing coffins among other unseen images which looks very strange to everyone on board the pickup vehicle they were travelling across the desert.

“She concluded that nobody touched my brother, tortured or brutalised him in any way to warrant his strange behaviour.

According to Samson, his brother had not shown these strange behaviours before.

 "That guy was a very strong man, he was even stronger than me," said Samson.

He is convinced something strange might have happened to his brother while crossing the Sahara Desert to Libya.

Could it be that he was secretly attacked and killed by an unknown assailant which was not confirmed to Samson?

These are serious questions that demand answers.

Samson says he will continue pushing for answers and unravel the mystery behind his brother's demise.

Meanwhile, Samson hopes that by sharing his brother's story it will discourage the youth in Ghana from illegal migration to Europe in search of greener pastures.

Before embarking on such a perilous journey, Prince already had a job of his own.  He was a second-hand clothes dealer at Kantamanto market in Accra.

According to his brother, he was already living a normal life and able to cater for his family. He was married with two children.

Samson revealed what pushed his brother to migrate outside Ghana was the drive to seek for greener pastures abroad since he was not content with the kind of lifestyle his was living here in this country.

 Though he agrees with the idea that there are numerous job opportunities in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world compared to Ghana, he holds the view that it is possible for the youth to make it here in Ghana.



The search for greener pastures has always been the driving force pushing our youth to migrate in numbers out of their country to Europe. This has been the trend in Africa in recent times which even some Ghanaians are also involved.

The move has become a phenomenon deeply eating into the fabric of our society. Presently, the practice has become rife, turning the majority of the youth into victims instead of victors due to the kind of danger they are exposed to on the way as illegal migrants.

A typical example can be said of the horrendous torture and the inhuman treatment most African migrants and refugees were exposed to in recent months while embarking on the same journey across the Sahara Desert via Libya to Europe.

News reports indicated that most of these African migrants were sold in open markets as slaves in Libya, and are held against their will in inhumane conditions in exchange for ransom money.

A revelation which sent shock waves globally and sparked protests outside Libyan embassies across Africa and Europe.

Libya has been a major transit destination for migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe by sea.

According to the International Organization for Migration, there are 700,000 – 1 million migrants in Libya.

In Africa, for that matter, Ghana, poverty and unemployment have been identified as factors pushing the youth to migrate.

This expose has been backed by a recent Afrobarometer report which cited about half of two groups that are critical to African countries’ economic future, the young and the highly educated, have considered emigrating in search of greener pastures.

Among the nine countries surveyed in 2017, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Benin, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Uganda, Mali, and Nigeria, Zimbabwe tops as the highest proportion of young potential emigrants.

Although the main drivers for potential emigration are the same across all countries, the quest for jobs and better economic prospects and the preferred destinations vary greatly by country, with potential emigrants split between leaving and staying on the continent.

The freedom of movement, mobility rights, or rights to travel is a human rights concept encompassing the right of individuals to travel from place to place within the territory of a country and to leave the country and return to it.

The right includes not only visiting places but changing the place where the individual resides or works. Such a right is provided in the constitutions of numerous states, and in documents reflecting norms of international law.

For example, article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights vividly asserts that: a citizen of a state in which that citizen is present has the liberty to travel, reside in, and/ or work in any part of the state where one pleases within the limits of respect for the liberty and rights of others.

Libya migrants

If indeed all these laws are working, then everyone has freedom and rights to migrate, reside and work elsewhere but the main problem is always due to the manner in which people migrate which is mostly, the wrong way (illegal migration) which must be checked.

Migration has its advantages same as its disadvantages to the country which is losing people and also the host country. Although identified as a global issue that requires global solutions from all quarters, the UN Agenda 2030 has been considered as useful policy framework for migration.

This means that achieving the SDGs is key for Ghana to put behind itself issues that comes with illegal migration which lots of lives of our youth are being exposed to danger; be it torture, abuse or sold in slavery or held against their will in inhumane conditions including loss of life through mysterious deaths like that of unfortunate Prince Amoh- Ayensu as well as others who were victimized.

For Ghana to meet the SDGs, it would require that the needs of its youth be met by helping fix the burgeoning unemployment canker as well as strive to create an enabling environment for them to thrive in order to discourage them from illegal migration in search for greener pastures elsewhere.

Local and International laws on migration and free movement should be shaped in a friendly way to guarantee free movement and migration in all the ECOWAS countries and across the entire world. The media also has a major role to play in shedding lights on issues pertaining to migration and free movement to educate the masses on the legal ways of migration, how to acquire the right documentation, the dangers of illegal migration and the laws guiding the free movement of migration in Ghana and beyond.

It is my hope that the proposed Global Impact for Migration which will be adopted this year under the auspices of the United Nations would cover dimensions of International migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner which among all things protect the safety, dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status, and at all times.

Finally, the ECOWAS Protocol on the Free Movement should be reinforced to remove every impediments or barrier to trade movement of its citizens across borders so as to forestall the crises most African migrants faced in their quest to migrate out of borders as a way of eliminating the act of illegal migration.

-- The writer is a Human Rights Activist and member of the Migration Media Alliance(MMA)