Okudzeto Ablakwa deplores treatment of Ghanaian visa applicants

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Grateful to the Rt. Hon. Speaker for directing Parliamentary action into the treatment meted out to Ghanaian visa applicants at some Embassies in Ghana after I made this Statement in Parliament today:

STATEMENT BY HON. SAMUEL OKUDZETO ABLAKWA, RANKING MEMBER, COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS ON THE TREATMENT METED OUT TO GHANAIAN VISA APPLICANTS BY SOME EMBASSIES IN GHANA

Mr Speaker, I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to make this all-important statement.

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Independent Ghana has enjoyed great diplomatic relations with many countries over the last six decades.  Our quintessential Ghanaian hospitality has been generously extended to sister nations who have over the years established diplomatic missions here in Accra. Many more diplomatic missions continue to be opened in our dear country even as we admit in all fairness that our friendly diplomatic relations with most of these countries have been largely mutual and reciprocal.

Mr Speaker, there is, however, a blot that threatens to affect the good relations Ghana enjoys with some of these nations with diplomatic missions in Ghana.  The blot I speak of; is the shabby and dehumanizing treatment many Ghanaian visa applicants are subjected to virtually on a daily basis.  There is also what many Ghanaian visa applicants consider to be extortionist conduct on the part of some of these embassies.

Mr Speaker, It is indeed sad to observe that most of these embassies in question have made no provision whatsoever for a decent and safe waiting area where visa applicants may be hosted as they wait their turn during visa interview appointments. I have personally made the effort to visit a number of embassies during their interview appointment periods and what I have observed leaves me rather outraged.  You find fellow Ghanaians standing in open places; some left to wait at street shoulders and roundabouts with no one caring about the associated risk posed by motorists, others are left at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather – to these embassies, they couldn’t be bothered if the sun is scorching, if its raining or even if there is a category five hurricane – they simply don’t seem to care. 

Mr Speaker, the records of this house will show that I have had cause to raise this matter some four years ago during the vetting of the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Hanna Serwaa Tetteh.  It’s really a pity that this unfortunate and unacceptable treatment meted out to Ghanaians has continued unabated all these years.

Mr. Speaker, to the extent that thousands and thousands of Ghanaians continue to pay non-refundable sums for the visa services they seek – which are no small amounts by the way, one wonders why a fraction of the revenue generated by these embassies cannot be used to make basic provision of a waiting area for their visa clients.

Mr Speaker, many of our constituents are also complaining about the reception they receive at the hands of the staff of these embassies. Reports of disparaging remarks, poor human relations and outright insults are becoming rife. What is even more worrying is the fact that often some of the embassy staff who treat Ghanaian visa applicants with such disdain are fellow Ghanaians.

Mr Speaker, a new trend is also emerging where some embassies apart from their standard visa processing fees, demand all kinds of extra fees and charges under various guises. They range from express fees, early appointment fees, email fees, text message fees and so on and so forth.  The sad reality is that in many instances, despite the fact that applicants pay through the nose, the embassies who charge all these extra fees do not keep to their side of the bargain while these vulnerable visa applicants are made to keep paying for the inefficiency and unreliability of the embassies.

Mr Speaker, the time has come for all of us to accept that visa applicants from every nation on this planet have rights.  Visa applicants deserve respect.  Visa applicants do not lose their basic human dignity because they have applied for a visa.  These principles must apply whether the visa request will be granted or not.

The visa applicants who are being battered and disrespected are the very same people who pay all fees and charges demanded.  They are the very same people who pay for their own flight tickets and fill the international airlines that leave Kotoka Airport every night.  The very same people who pay for their own hotel bills when they have arrived at their destinations and they are the very same people who indulge in other expenditures all of which must be quite beneficial to the local economies of these countries.

Mr Speaker, I believe now is the time to demand action as the people’s representatives.  The people whom we represent demand a change of attitude and a change in how visa applicants are treated and perceived by officials at these embassies. Consular courtesies must be fair to all persons and on both sides.

Mr Speaker, though I have avoided mentioning specific embassies for obvious diplomatic reasons, however, the famous lyrics of the legendary Robert Nesta Marley comes in handy – “And who the cap fit, let them wear it!”

It is my fervent prayer that this house will consider all available options at our disposal to seek reforms in how these embassies treat our citizens. 

Finally, Mr Speaker, as we celebrate our 60 years of independence, we may disagree on a few historical issues, nevertheless, we are all ad idem about the history of the Ghanaian people. As a people, we have always been unassuming and generally humble, however, we do not compromise when our dignity is at stake and it is the reason we have victoriously resisted oppressors rule as our national anthem reminds the world.

I thank you, Mr Speaker.