Discover the proprietor of a misplaced pockets

Driver’s license

The black, weathered plastic purse, discovered on the Italian island of Lampedusa, was discovered 3,500 km (2,200 miles) from Ghana after which appeared to have been discarded.

Once I opened it, Richard Opoku’s face was observing me from the nook of his driver’s license.

It was one from a cache of non-public paperwork belonging to varied people and picked up over time at a web site the place small boats utilized by migrants to cross the Mediterranean had been unloaded.

It had been recovered a number of years in the past and my curiosity was piqued – I wished to know the story behind the license.

What occurred to Richard Opoku?

The pockets was a part of a melancholy assortment of misplaced objects that serves as a museum commemorating the tens of hundreds who risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Lampedusa.

Life jackets, cooking pots, water bottles, searchlights and cassette tapes are neatly organized on the cabinets and partitions of this room simply off the island’s port.

These on a regular basis objects have been collected by a gaggle of volunteers since 2009.

“Some deliver earth with them. They create them with them from their nation,” says Giacomo Sferlazzo, one of many backers of the gathering, holding up a small white polythene packet.

“We discovered a few of these small packages that present the connection to at least one’s personal nation in Africa.”

He then pulls out a big folder filled with pictures, passports, driver’s licenses and letters, together with Mr. Opoku’s doc.

Volunteers on Lampedusa have been gathering and displaying the non-public belongings of some migrants since 2009

Lampedusa — a small fishing and vacationer island of about 6,000 folks — is nearer to Africa than Europe and has lengthy been a arrival level for migrants and refugees in search of a brand new life.

Yearly, hundreds threat their lives to get to Europe.

Effectively over 3,000 folks reached Lampedusa in March alone, greater than double the arrivals in the identical month final yr.

With greater than 20,000 recorded deaths and lacking since 2014, this stretch of the Mediterranean has turn out to be the deadliest migration route on this planet.

The story goes on

However Mr Opoku could also be amongst those that have survived and I’m returning to Ghana to try to observe up.

I’m touring to the central Brong Ahafo area, the place many individuals are migrating from.

Maybe somebody right here had met Mr. Opoku on his personal journey north.

Some households are nonetheless ready to listen to from their kin since they moved away a few years in the past.

Rita Ohenewaah is hoping for information of her husband, who tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Lampedusa in 2016.

She final heard from him when he known as from Libya in December of the identical yr.

“He advised me he would ship some cash by somebody who’s going to Ghana. He additionally promised to deliver a mobile phone and Christmas garments for the kids. He known as morning and night. I haven’t heard from him once more.”

Like her, it was doable {that a} girl or relative was ready for information from Mr. Opoku.

Again within the Ghanaian capital of Accra, there are a selection of frustrations as privateness rules and bureaucratic hurdles forestall me from discovering out extra about this man.

However lastly, after months of looking – a breakthrough.

Frank Apronti of the Ghana Immigration Service’s Doc Fraud Experience Middle managed to seek out the telephone variety of a member of the family of the driving force’s license holder.

It’s his sister who then connects me to his brother who tells me that he’s nonetheless alive and lives in Germany.

Once I name Mr Opoku he’s shocked once I inform him that I discovered his driver’s license in Lampedusa.

It seems he misplaced it in 2011 and by no means anticipated it to look once more. In truth, he doesn’t assume I’ve it till I share an image of it.

I’m lastly touring to Germany to fulfill him.

Richard Opoku was reunited together with his driver’s license 11 years after shedding it on a ship

On a frosty winter morning, he receives me in his small one-room house on the outskirts of the northern German metropolis of Bremen.

At the moment the 40-year-old works there as a forklift driver.

Whereas in Ghana he labored for a time as an unlawful gold miner, or galamsey as they’re recognized, to lift cash for his journey. On daily basis these males threat their lives in unsafe tunnels that generally collapse.

When he determined to go away for Europe in 2009, he was conscious of the dangers that the journey would entail, however didn’t contemplate them any extra harmful than his work in Ghana.

In his travels, he zigzagged across the area whereas making an attempt to earn cash to maintain going.

He went first to Cotonou in close by Benin after which to Lagos in neighboring Nigeria, the place he made cash by driving a scooter that ferried passengers across the large metropolis.

From there he returned to Cotonou and traveled additional north to neighboring Niger the place he labored at a neighborhood restaurant for an additional two months.

However touring in a car throughout the desert from Niger to Libya has been the hardest ordeal but. He used the cash he received from his work in Nigeria and Niger to pay the fare.

He was amazed at how the driving force knew the place to go in a spot the place there have been no roads.

“Typically you meet a gaggle, all 35 folks with the driving force… they’re all useless.”

Possibly they died of thirst – he’s unsure.

“Water is one thing like gold or diamonds on the journey. Possibly you solely drink a couple of times all day – only a small sip.”

On the Chadian border, the car was stopped by criminals and the passengers had been robbed of their garments and cash.

Mr. Opoku managed to stop his money from being stolen by exuding it on his physique.

However his troubles weren’t over when he reached Libya. He was kidnapped for ransom and crushed to a pulp as a result of he couldn’t attain a relative to pay. Finally, a girl in search of a maid paid for his launch.

Then in 2011, two years after leaving Ghana and amid the rebellion in opposition to Libyan chief Muammar Gaddafi, Mr Opoku boarded a ship in Tripoli to make the crossing to Lampedusa.

However in the course of the Mediterranean, the boat’s engine stalled. Mr Opoku and his fellow passengers needed to depend on the wind till rescued by the Italian Coast Guard.

He misplaced his license once they docked on the Lampedusa coast.

They had been first taken to a camp after which transferred to a migrant middle in Sicily. His plan was to go to Germany as he had heard from different Ghanaians that it was a very good place.

Nevertheless, he utilized for asylum in Italy.

His software was initially rejected, however he managed to get a residence allow for Europe as a result of the UN had beneficial Italy that anybody who fled Libya throughout the 2011 turmoil must be granted a one-year residence allow. I couldn’t confirm this declare.

“The journey was very arduous. It was hell,” he says.

“However there’s no hope at residence, so that you simply endure the ache and transfer on.”

Mr Opoku had imagined a easy life in Europe however says issues didn’t prove that method.

“Once I was in Africa I assumed it was straightforward to get cash in Europe, nevertheless it’s not like that. It’s a must to work arduous.

“However again residence there was no plan for me to outlive, so I’ll say I’m grateful to be right here.”

Map of Europe and Africa

You possibly can watch Thomas Naadi’s full size documentary concerning the seek for Richard Opoku right here.