By Omar Bah
The European Union Ambassador to The Gambia, Attila Lajos has said although the EU “doesn’t necessarily have the interest or intention of a premature withdrawal of the Ecomig forces” he believes prolonging their presence in the country will only reflect a seemingly fragile security situation in The Gambia.
“The EU doesn’t have interest in any premature withdrawal of Ecomig out of the country before the completion of the reforming of the country’s security sector, neither do we want to keep external forces in a democratically transforming country for too long. So I think the political challenge for Ecowas is to find the right time for an exit strategy for Ecomig,” he said at an EU-media breakfast yesterday.
Lajos said it may not be all that positive for any government in the world to complete its term with foreign forces in its country.
“It gives an impression of how fragile that government could be. So I don’t think it is in the interest of the government to keep the Ecomig forces here forever. I believe the Gambia is capable of handling its security. It will be painful but it is possible. This is why we are pushing for the issue of reforming the security sector,” he added.
The Ecomig current mandate ends in August and according to the EU rep, he cannot assure that the EU will continue to support the Ecomig if their mandate is extended again, adding that the EU has already spent twenty-two million Euros on the Ecomig.
Ambassador Lajos said the decision to extend Ecomig’s mandate is entirely an Ecowas decision.
“If they decide to extend the mandate then comes the question of who pays the bill?”
Ambassador Lajos said The Gambia government and the European Union are engaged in talks that include a plan to deport thousands of Gambians who are living in EU nations illegally.
The Barrow administration is accused of agreeing to a deal with the European Union to return Gambian migrants living in Europe ‘illegally’.
But Lajos said although there is no deal between the Gambia government and the EU, talks were ongoing to deport a particular group of Gambians which is in the range of thousands.
This, he said, is part of the discussions because those who exhausted their legal possibilities for seeking asylum or legalising their status in EU countries are going to be returned.
“This is a matter of principle; this is part of the respect for the rule of law. No country wishes to have illegal migrants in its territory,” Lajos said.
The EU ambassador said latest deportation from Germany was not an EU exercise but one that came at the instance of the governments of Germany and The Gambia.
“Those who were returned have been identified by German authorities as Gambians and since they exhausted their possibilities to stay longer in the territory of Germany, they were deported. It was not an EU sponsored return operation,” he said.
Lajos further revealed that EU and its member states have provided by far the largest part of international development assistance to the Gambia with a staggering €347. 559. 141, 24M out of the 365M compared to the €50M given to Jammeh in five years.
Although the EU has continued to pump billions of dalasi into The Gambia under the new leadership, the ambassador said there is no condition, clause or article that obliges the Barrow administration to repatriate its citizens from Europe.