By Omar Bah
The Gambia government is doing its best within the available resources to provide reintegration support to Gambian migrants that are brought back home, be they voluntarily returned or forcefully returned (deported), according to the executive director of the National Youth Council.
Alagie Jarju was speaking in the wake of claims that the government is not seen to be doing much to support migrants that are returned to reintegrate into the society.
“Though the government doesn’t have a special package for deportees, we don’t discriminate between voluntary returnees and deportees when it comes to reintegration,” Mr Jarju told The Standard. “If the funds are available for reintegration, we give it to returnees without a second thought.”
The NYC boss said as far as the NYC is concerned, whenever support is available, they work with the Ministry of Interior and provide that support to those individuals.
Over 35,000 Gambians arrived in Europe by irregular means between 2014 and 2018, according to Frontex, the EU border agency.
In one of the European countries, Germany, as of January 2020, around 2,600 Gambians were at imminent risk of deportation, and a further 6,000 asylum cases were pending, according to the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a Germany-based non-governmental organisation.
The ESI estimated that 10,000 Gambians in Germany were potentially subject to return, as of January 2020. Thousands more Gambians were potentially at risk of return around other European nations, although deportations from Italy and Spain have so far remained very low.
According to experts, Gambian irregular migrants in the EU who have received deportation orders likely do so as a result of rejected asylum claims.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines ‘refugee’ as a person who, because of well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality.
Former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh had blocked all deportations of Gambians.
But when the current government came, it lifted the ban and since then deportations of Gambians from Europe and America have markedly increased. Given the uproar the deportation caused in the country, the government has now formally blocked flights returning migrant deportees from the European Union, arguing that the country cannot reintegrate them.
The Germany-based Gambian migration activist Yahya Sonko claimed that the majority of Gambians that were deported from 2017 to 2021 from EU countries “were not given any reintegration package”.
But the NYC director Jarju maintained that at the level of the council, they have been giving reintegration packages to both forced and voluntary returnees, without discrimination.
“As long as you are brought back to Gambia and you apply for our packages, you are granted,” he explained.
The NYC reintegration package varies, including training on agriculture and entrepreneurship, grants and loans.
Recently, the National Enterprise Development Initiative (NEDI) gave grants of up to D50,000 per beneficiary to 40 young people including returnees and deportees, according to Mr Jarju.
The NYC works with NEDI in terms of grant management as they are both satellite institutions under the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Mr Jarju said the basic aim of the NEDI grant is to ensure that the young people do not continue to use the back-way in the hope of making ends meet.
Ousman Njie, a native of Bakoteh was deported from Germany a few years ago. Njie told The Standard he never knew reintegration packages are provided for deportees.
“All I used to hear even before we arrived in Banjul was that IOM [International Organisation for Migration] provides support for those who voluntarily returned,” he said.
However, the NYC boss said his office is working on trying to popularize the opportunities available at the council and its partner agencies so that young people can access them.
Beyond reintegration support
The Ministry of Interior’s Migration Focal Point, Manding Saidykhan, said beyond the reintegration support, the government tries to ensure that Gambians in Europe that are to be deported are treated fairly.
He said: “The government is engaging our European partners to ensure that when they are forcibly returning Gambians who are living in their countries for years without committing any crime, they should allow them to park their belongings.
“We are also engaging them to train some of these people before they deport them.”
The government is also trying to mainstream migration in the national budget so as to stop depending entirely on foreign donors, according to the migration desk officer. He further explained that the government is also working on establishing a recreation centre for returnees.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.
Having established an operational presence in 2001, IOM The Gambia officially became a country office in July 2017. The agency works with The Gambia government to strengthen migration governance through national coordination frameworks and evidence-based policy design, particularly through research and collection and analysis of data to inform policymaking.
Mr. Etienne Micallef, IOM programme manager for Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR), said the agency does not play any role in the deportation of migrants.
However, the agency can also provide support to forced returnees through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration and upon request of the government.
He said the IOM works with the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and the Office of the Vice President.
Operationally, IOM facilitates the sustainable reintegration of returning migrants, placing a particular emphasis on the protection of vulnerable migrants. Between 2017 and September 2021, over 6,000 Gambian returnees were assisted.
At least over 200 forced returnees from EU member states have benefitted from the IOM reintegration program.