With the launching of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for the protection and assistance of vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking, The Gambia government has created a holistic tool for effective coordination of assistance and protection of migrants.
In the NRM, the government and partners have identified clear steps for various stages of assistance to migrants, including identification, assessments, referrals, family tracing, return, and reintegration.
One of the government ministries that championed the development of the mechanism is the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare.
“The NRM is a holistic approach that ensures every institution knows its terms of reference. It ensures clarity in terms of responsibility, openness, accountability and brings to an end the blame game,” Kajali Sonko, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare told The Standard.
The issues of migration, especially trafficking, remained one of the challenging issues for The Gambia government.
In the past twenty years, The Gambia has become “a significant country of origin for migrants” and refugees travelling to Europe and North America, according to the 2020 Working Papers of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.
However, over the past years, a good number of Gambians were either voluntarily returned or deported.
DPS Sonko pointed out that prior to the coming into being of the NRM, there was no system, regulation or mechanism to better take care of migrants when they arrived in the country.
“All the institutions responsible for migration issues were just doing things separately in an uncoordinated manner,” he explained. He added: “At the time, when we receive them [migrants] we used to take them to the Independence Stadium or hotels and other players will just come and look at them and go. But this system [NRM] we built with IOM will ensure that we consolidate and formalise the already existing efforts and put it in context where if a recipient institution like NAATIP receive those who were trafficked, they will have to consult the Ministry of Gender directly for us to take them to the shelter at Bakoteh.”
Under the NRM, the Ministry of Gender is responsible for providing psychosocial support to victims or investigations in some of the cases.
The migration focal person at the Ministry for the Interior, Manding Saidykhan, said the NRM will significantly improve coordination between the different players. The different stakeholders in the migration field know what each is supposed to do.
“The role of the Ministry for the Interior is to ensure that issues of returnees are properly checked and referred to the right institutions to take up from there,” Mr Saidykhan highlighted.
Vulnerable children are catered
Karamo Keita of the Institute for Social Reformation & Action (ISRA), one of the local NGOs that was involved in the development of the NRM, said the mechanisms put in place by the NRM would enable NGOs like his to appropriately respond to the needs of the migrant children they serve.
“Through the NRM, we now clearly understand how and where to make referrals for all vulnerable children,” he said. “It also creates a robust system for all stakeholders to know what each and every one is doing towards the protection of children.”
For Mr Keita, the NRM is a good starting point “for putting all our needs together” because it enables stakeholders to know where other service providers are and what they are doing.
The development of the NRM was made possible through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, and the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons through the project ‘Supporting National Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking’.
Mr Etienne Micallef, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’sProgramme Manager for Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR), said the NRM is a very important step for The Gambia in terms of providing protection to vulnerable migrants.
He reiterated that before the NRM, there was no established national measure or mechanism to refer vulnerable migrants for support..
“This doesn’t mean support was not provided, but now with the NRM, a mapping of the various stakeholders was done and the relevant referral procedures between the different actors are in place” he explained, adding that the NRM is victim-centred.