Gov’t lifts moratorium on deportation, EU seeks clarity

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By Tabora Bojang

The Gambia Government has lifted its moratorium on the deportation of undocumented Gambians from EU countries effective January 1st 2020.
The communication officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saikou Ceesay, confirmed this to The Standard.

Ceesay said the process of returning Gambians home will be executed in line with the provisions of the EU-Gambia joint technical discussions convened in May 2019 under which people who are not only denied legal status but also committed crimes that violated the laws of the deporting countries as determined by the courts are to be repatriated.
Last year, the Barrow government imposed a moratorium on the repatriation of Gambian migrants from Germany and other EU countries “pending further negotiations with EU partners while better and more humane modalities are worked out” following public outcry and mass demonstrations.

Asked if the persistent pressure of EU member countries to return undocumented migrants home and calls for a visa restriction on The Gambia by the EU Parliament are responsible for the lift, Ceesay said it is not a question of suffering a backlash but because of the Barrow government’s commitment to the welfare of its citizens.
“We have very fruitful cooperation with our EU partners and the relationship is based on mutual interest so there was no pressure but equally no responsible government will refuse to accept its citizens.

“What is at work now is to convince our European partners to provide skills to these migrants before bringing them back so that if they come back to the country they will engage themselves in gainful employment because we do not have the requisite facilities and the infrastructure here,” Ceesay added.

The Standard contacted the head of the EU delegation in The Gambia. Ambassador Attila Lajos pointed out that even with the announcement of the lifting of the moratorium by the government, the EU is receiving “confusing indications” because it still annuls all proposed return operations.

“This is contradictory, why do you lift the moratorium if you do not want to allow return flights? It does not make sense and this is what we would like to clarify with the government. We have been talking about it for two years now and I think time has come for clarity and sort of factual black and white picture as to what we can expect,” Lajos said.

“When we were informed of the upcoming lifting of the moratorium in October, we thought that return operations would start from January 1stbased on what was communicated to us by the government. However, came January 1st, and there were few return operations planned by commercial flights with only one migrant or chartered flight with six passengers but all these requests were refused by the government. So we are receiving confusing indications as to what the government really wants to do,” he said  The Gambian authorities have categorically denied persistent public speculations that they signed deals with the EU to facilitate the deportation of Gambians.
But according to Mr Lajos, the EU has been engaging The Gambia for over two years to enable the flow of returnees in the country.

He said return operations require the consent of the receiving state and EU has made it clear that it would make sure returnees are taken back to their countries of origin since “Europe could no longer just absorb people entering its territory as The Gambia would not be happy with unknown number of illegal migrants either”.

The ambassador said the EU shares the belief that the contribution of about €40M reintegration projects in The Gambia aimed at creating opportunities, jobs and increasing the capacity of returnees are adequate for tackling the challenge posed by the returnees.
He warned that continuing defiance by the government not to take back its citizens as required by international obligations would not only make The Gambia face stringent visa procedures but it will also “spoil the overall collaboration”.

Asked if discussions are ongoing with government to train returnees in Europe before bringing them back home, he said the EU will not engage in “training of illegal migrants on European territory” because they have no legal status to stay there.
“Instead, we offer this training facilities in the countries of origin and that is what we believe will help the reintegration of migrants.”