By Alagie Manneh
The EU Commission has said that The Gambia’s cooperation on readmission of its citizen deportees from across EU zones is still not sufficient.
In December 2022, the EU Council increased Schengen visa fees for Gambians from 80 to 120 euros to force The Gambia to cooperate on accepting its citizen deportees from EU countries. But almost a year into the coercive policy, the EU Council noted in its recent meeting on 29 September that the number of those deported fell short of its expectations.
The Commission noted that since the Council’s 2022 decision increasing Schengen visa fee for Gambian nationals, it has continued to assess The Gambia’s cooperation on readmission, including the assistance provided in the identification of Gambian nationals “illegally staying” on the territory of the Member States, and the timely issuance of travel documents and the organisation of return operations.
“The Commission assessed that, since the entry into force of Council Implementing Decision, a substantial and sustained improvement in the cooperation on readmission can be established in the organisation of return flights and operations.
“However, the cooperation with The Gambia on readmission is still not sufficient with regard to assistance provided in the identification of Gambian nationals illegally staying on the territory of all Member States and the timely issuance of travel documents. Additionally, capacity or frequency of charter flights should be increased to allow for a sustainable reduction of the number of persons illegally staying in the Member States.”
Consequently, the Commission said the Council’s 2022 decision to increase Schengen visa fees Gambian nationals “should remain in force”.
Giving a detailed analysis of The Gambia’s case, the EU “reiterated the need to restart cooperation on processing readmission applications and on return operations based on the existing readmission arrangement, including during high-level meetings with the Gambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as during the first meeting of the Joint Working Group under the EU readmission arrangement that took place in October 2022.
“The Commission stressed the need to relaunch cooperation on all phases of the readmission process, in particular by reactivating the embassies’ processing and responsiveness towards all Member States to achieve substantial and sustained progress.
“Despite the continuous engagement of the EU to improve the level of cooperation by The Gambia, such progress was not achieved on all steps of the readmission procedure,” it noted.
However, in the eyes of Germany-based Gambian migration activist Yahya Sonko, a former refugee speaker in the State of Baden-Württemberg, the EU is not being fair with The Gambia.
“Looking at the sub-regions in Africa, The Gambia is the only country with the highest number of deportees. The Barrow government did not reject a single charter deportation flight from the EU throughout 2023, unlike the previous years. They were complying simply because of the visa restrictions imposed on them by the EU, which they want to see lifted sooner rather than later. But the EU Commission’s latest report is quite shocking, if not surprising,” Mr Sonko told The Standard.