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By Omar Bah

The Gambia Refugees’ Association – Europe branch and LUBA, a Gambian association in Italy, have announced the arrest and interrogation of about 13 Gambian asylum seekers in Cagliari, Italy.

The 13 were arrested on Tuesday 9 February 2021 and taken to the Uta prison for questioning, following an unanticipated raid in their houses.

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According to information from Italian police published on their website, the migrants were called for identification and some of them are being targeted for deportation.

Growing numbers of young Gambian migrants and asylum seekers risk being deported from Europe under an unpopular returns programme. The government had recently accepted Germany’s request to deport almost 20 Gambians on 3rd March 2021 despite putting a moratorium on deportations amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

UNDESA estimated the Gambian diaspora population at about 118,485 in 2019, of which 71,987 or 61% are in Europe. But the Gambia government stated in its National Development Plan (NDP 2018-21) that the diaspora population can be as high as 200,000, taking into account undocumented irregular migrants and the multigenerational diaspora.

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Four of the top five host countries for Gambian migrants and refugees are in Europe.

As of June 2020, there were 22,840 Gambians in Italy, 19,849 in Spain and 15,535 in Germany.

The UK Office of National Statistics estimated that there are 20,000 Gambians in the UK, but a recent study calculated that there are 36,279 Gambia-born migrants living in the UK in 2020. UN DESA data from 2019 indicates that 8,653 Gambians live in the Nordic countries.

The Gambia Refugees’ Association – Europe branch said “the clampdown on the Gambian asylum seekers by Italian police in collaboration with Gambian Immigration officers is unacceptable and we condemn it in the strongest terms.

“Information reaching our association indicates that most of those who were arrested had their documents stamped with a red stamp and that they might be deported anytime soon although they have been released from custody. This action by the officers is uncalled for and the Gambia Refugees Association- Europe Branch has strongly condemned it,” the association said in a statement.

The statement, signed by the association’s spokesperson Yahya Sonko, added: “We are calling on the Gambia Government to stop sending Immigration officers to countries like Italy, Switzerland and Germany for identification of Gambians to be deported. This is not what we expect from our government. Our brothers and sisters in Italy, just like those in other countries in Europe and the entire Diaspora, deserve protection, support, guidance and encouragement for a better future.”

“Therefore, we urge the Gambia Government to stop accepting such deportation requests each time they are called upon. The government should find a solution to the situation of Gambian refugees instead of accepting deportation all the time without putting in place any re-integration mechanisms for the deportees. Gambia government has been neglecting deportees and these people are undergoing trauma and discrimination in society, some of which bear negative consequences. A classic example is the case of a deportee who allegedly killed his father some time ago in Brikama, Kombo Central, West Coast Region. We therefore condemn this trend and call for an immediate stop to it,” the association warned.

The association also advised and encouraged Gambian asylum seekers to be law-abiding and concentrate on their integration. 

It reminded the Gambia and German governments to consider their position paper detailing solutions to “all these problems faced by Gambian refugees and if implemented, the Gambia’s migration problems will soon become history”.

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