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Gambia refuses permits for deportation flights from EU

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By Alagie Manneh

The Gambia government has categorically stated that it will not be accepting any requests for deportation of its citizens from Germany or any other country for now.

The EU made a formal request to the Gambia government for a landing permit for a flight scheduled to depart Germany for Banjul – with some 20 Gambian deportees expected to be on board – on 1 September. 

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However, according to Musa Camara, the director of diaspora affairs at the foreign affairs ministry, it is “[now a government] policy, for now,” to not issue any overflight landing permit for any deportation flight.

The German authorities have reportedly stepped up their resolve on deportations in the past days, making arrests and detaining some Gambians for potential deportation, according to Yahya Sonko, a German-based Gambian activist and speaker of Refugee Council of the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Sonko told The Standard as a result, many undocumented migrants are now going into hiding out of fear for deportation.

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But Mr Camara, who sought to reassure those migrants, asserted: “Many people have this perception – because it is an election year – that we are dragging our foot not to jeopardise the political [chances of the president] whatever. But we are technicians. We are civil servants. We are not politicians. It is a policy knowing the remittance inflow of Gambians in the Diaspora. Knowing all that and how that supports our socioeconomic development, every country would want to support your citizens wherever they may be if they are contributing towards your national development. The policy is based on that principle. We thought the best would be to negotiate with our bilateral partners.”

He denied assertions that the Barrow administration is known for condoning deportation of Gambians, asserting that “only one flight came in 2019. Also, in 2020, only one flight came and those are Gambians that were from prisons. Most of them were sentenced due to crimes they committed and as per the law, they are to be repatriated. Even in their interviews, most of them confirmed they are from prison”.

Mr Camara said he has also spoken with the EU liaison officer in the country regarding their request for a landing permit.

“Currently, we are negotiating with them, knowing we have a good number of Gambians in Germany whose statuses are yet to be regularized. We want to help them [Gambians] acquire skills, enroll in entrepreneurship programmes there in Germany and upon completion, those who wish to return could be given some package to start a business here than for them to be repatriated empty handed,” he stated. 

It is not clear what the exact number of Gambian migrants who are currently being held in Germany’s Abschiebungshafteinrichtung am Flufhafen Münchendetention [Deportation Detention Facility at Munich Airport] is, however, according to Mr Sonko, at least three Gambians called in to report that they have been arrested, being detained and awaiting potential deportation.

“Our German counterparts from our organisation visited them [the detained Gambians] and copied their letters of deportation and sent them to various institutions for authentication. Sadly, they were verified to be authentic. The question is, will the Gambia government allow for another deportation? Is our government going to stand with us this time around or will it side with the Germans?” he asked. 

Asked why it’s been difficult for the Western European country which has one of the strongest economies in Europe to incorporate and accept Gambian migrants, Mr Sonko cited the rise of far-right movements and politicians as the stumbling-stone.

“It is all politically motivated,” he said. “There are political parties that are growing and gaining more power in Germany. They are the far-rights. They demonstrate all the time, creating issues for the government regarding migration. And now, they are even getting into parliament and winning seats.”

In November 2020, the German authorities deported at least 20 Gambians.

And in March 2021, another 25 Gambian migrants were deported, amid an outpour of consternation with many accusing the government of complicity.

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