By Mustapha K Darboe
The Gambia government may not have signed an agreement with the EU to deport migrants but the two parties have started discussions to that effect, a new document indicated.
The European Union and The Gambia government are negotiating a deportation agreement based on a joint framework agreed upon by the two partners at a meeting in Brussels on 3 October 2017, The Standard has learned.
The framework, an internal EU document seen by The Standard, was approved at the “2644th meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee of the European Union”, but it is not finalised yet, as negotiations are on.
“It is true that the European Union is negotiating procedures for readmissions of Gambian nationals. This is a standard procedure that the European Union negotiates with third countries,” Vilde Renman, press officer at the EU Gambia office told The Standard.
“However, the document you refer to is a restricted internal document hence we cannot comment further until the negotiations are finalised.”
The joint framework seen by The Standard call the “Draft EU-Gambia good practices for the efficient operation of the return procedure”, stated that the EU will be returning a maximum of 50 Gambians per month with green light from Gambia.
With reference number 117/1/11907, the document stated that the transport costs of returnees and their readmission will be taken care of by the EU member states.
“The European Union will provide support to the Gambian authorities for reception and reintegration of returnees, and developing communities of origin through the EUTF project implemented by IOM “Strengthening the management and governance of migration and the sustainable reintegration of returning migrants in The Gambia” launched early June 2017,” the draft agreement stated.
“The Gambian authorities will be informed in advance of each return operation. The EU will ensure coordination of return operations from member states to avoid exceeding Gambia’s reception capacity within a given period. To this end, for the first 12 months in the implementation of these good practices, EU member states do not intend to return forcefully more than 50 persons per month.”
Migration is a hot topic in the EU member countries and The Gambia is one of the leading migrant producing countries, second only to Nigeria in Africa.
Though deportation of migrants is high on the EU agenda, The Gambia government has expressed its disinterest in the subject.
However, the government has not made any categorical statement as to whether its negotiations with EU have ended on the deportation issue though it disassociated itself with signing of any document to that effect.
EU has been the leading donor partner of the country that went through two decades of dictatorship that ruined its institutions and economy.
Currently The Gambia battles with a youth unemployment level at 38%, poverty at 48% with a public debt at 120% of its GDP.
Gambians in EU
Meanwhile, a staggering 49,770 Gambians have sought asylum in different European countries but with higher concentration in Italy and Germany from 2008 to 2016, Anis Cassar, the press and communications officer at the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), has told The Standard.
Majority of the asylum seekers are in Italy and Germany.
The uncompleted 2017 data from the EASO has shown that 10,945 Gambians have sought asylum in EU though October to December data for most countries are absent from records.
And as migrants increased, so does rejection of their asylum application in their receiving countries.
For the first quarter of 2017, asylum of 2,160 Gambians were rejected, in the second quarter 3,140 asylums applications rejected and in the third quarter 2,805 asylums were rejected.
“For Q3 of this year (July-September), 2,805 applications of Gambian citizens were rejected out of a total of 3,560 decisions taken. This equates to a recognition rate of 21% for Gambian citizens in Q3,” Cassar told The Standard via email communication.
“It is worth noting that rejected applications can be appealed.” The data showed most of the unsuccessful applications were in Germany.
Though the odds of getting asylum in Europe are slim, Gambians are still risking everything for the dangerous route.
Izabela Wiewiór, the press officer for European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has told The Standard via email interview that 7,950 Gambian citizens were detected “crossing illegally” the external borders of the European Union in 2017 via the Mediterranean Sea.
Moreover, according to data from the European Statistical Department shared with The Standard, the Gambians that sought asylum in European in 2016 are by far higher than 2015.
Mária Várhegyi, press officer for Luxembourg-based statistical department, said through an email interview that 16,010 Gambians have sought asylum in Europe in 2016, 15, 715 of whom are first timers.
About 2,540 of the asylum seekers are teenagers from 17 and below, Euro Stats data shows.
Migration is a hot topic in European countries with sharp rise in anti-migrant parties.
Amid a migrant crisis, sluggish economic growth and growing disillusionment with the European Union, far-right parties — some longstanding, others newly formed — have been achieving electoral success in a number of European nations.
The parties that benefit are the Alternative for Germany party that won up to 25 percent of the vote in German state elections in March, the National Front a French nationalist party that uses populist rhetoric to promote its anti-immigration and anti-European Union positions and the anti-European Union, anti-Islam Party for Freedom in Netherlands.
Others include the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn which came to international attention in 2012 when it entered the Greek Parliament for the first time, winning 18 seats and becoming the country’s third-largest party and the Sweden Democrats party, which has disavowed its roots in the white supremacist movement, won about 13 percent of the vote in elections in September 2014, which gave it 49 of the 349 seats in Parliament.
While this may be in Europe, America’s controversial president Donald Trump equally ascended to power on anti-migrant rhetoric against Muslims and Mexicans.
“The political discussion about migrants in the last year was dominated from the “right-side”. Meaning it is mostly, how can we reduce the number of migrants and how can we increase the number of deportations,” Julian Staiger, an advocate working with the Refugee Council of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told The Standard.
Staiger said Gambian migrants in South West region of Baden-Wuerttemberg could be up 15,000, most of who have arrived in the last three years.
“You can see that most of the laws that changed in the last 2 years made the life of refugees in Germany more difficult. A majority of German politicians did support these laws,” Staiger added.
He said the asylum applications for up to 94% of Gambians were rejected because Germany does not grant asylum to economic migrants, a category under which Gambians fall.
The Refugee Council of Baden-Wuerttemberg does advocacy work and helps migrants with information about asylum procedures in Germany
Mustapha K Darboe is a senior reporter at The Standard newspaper.