By Omar Bah & Tabora Bojang
The minister for the Interior Yankuba Sonko Friday told lawmakers that government had signed a “Good Practice Document” with the European Union in 2017 to repatriate Gambians who failed in their asylum applications.
It is the first time a senior government official publicly admitted to such a deal.
In October 2021, the government in a statement issued by its spokesperson denied signing any agreement with the EU or its member states to deport its citizens after coming under severe criticism for agreeing to such a deportation deal.
But responding to questions from members of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Sidia Jatta on government’s response to the situation of Gambians deported or waiting to be deported from Germany, Minister Sonko acknowledged that the government had signed a “cooperation” agreement with EU and certain good practices were identified in the repatriation process.
Minister Sonko said the government didn’t establish the number and magnitude of Gambians who failed in their asylum applications in Europe.
“There was a technical team established comprising of all stakeholders in the country who after consultation agreed on certain procedures or modalities that the EU and The Gambia could consider in the repatriation process and one of these modalities is for The Gambia to receive notification regarding the returnees. This is to help the country to prepare for reception to avoid excessive reception capacity,” he said.
He said the other issue was for The Gambia to conduct verifications on the returnees to establish their nationality knowing full well that some people have dubiously acquired Gambian documents and had filed applications in the name of The Gambia. Also, for The Gambia to provide emergency certificates to the returnees to facilitate their return and to establish that our returnees have exhausted all the legal means, the modalities on the reintegration of the returnees and periodic reviews of those modalities,” he said.
Minister Sonko said after signing the agreement, EU started deporting Gambians in small numbers without any issues but the moment they started deporting in large numbers there was public outcry.
“That was the time we advised the technical team to look at the agreement and come up with an operational conclusion on it and in the operational conclusion some areas were identified and this include the potential vulnerability and medical needs of the returnees, and whether the person they are deporting has any criminal record for safety purposes,” he said.
The Good Practice Document, Minister Sonko added, provides among other things that the EU should ensure coordination of return operations from EU member states to avoid exceeding receiving capability, support government to establish strategic communication on migration management and implement certain projects in The Gambia to support reintegration. He said although the EU has made tremendous efforts to fulfill the agreement, there are challenges which include exceeding the deportation numbers and also lack of provision of documentation establishing that the deportees have exhausted all legal means. He said this necessitated the imposition of a moratorium on deportations which is still in force.
Also commenting on the issue, foreign affairs minister Mamadou Tangara said: “As far as the Good Practice Document is concerned, we have written to the EU to notify them to review it …. and that is why they were open to review it.
All these deportations were fuelled by the rise of populism in Europe. [They] believe that all the problems in Europe are caused by the migrants which is not true,” Tangara said.
However, Minister Tangara stressed that the country cannot continue to refuse the deportation of its citizens.