By Juldeh Njie
Hundreds of Gambians yesterday staged a peaceful march at the Westfield Monument to protest against the recent spate of mass deportation of Gambians.
The protesters wore T-shirts with slogans ‘Stop The Deportations!’ and held placards reading ‘Rise Against Deportations’, ‘EU & US don’t Deport Our People In Cuffs’, ‘Gambia Government Say No To Deportation’, ‘Who Sign The Deal?’
At least 2,500 Gambians whose asylum applications have been rejected are identified for deportation from Germany, according to a Gambia refugee association based there. Fifteen Gambians will be deported every month until the whole group is returned, it claimed.
Thursday’s protest march lasted a little over five minutes with protesters heading back into the monument compound where speeches were read.
Yerro Jallow, coordinator of the campaign, said the march was brief because “our permit is restricted”.
He called for calm, noting: “Let’s give them [government] one or two weeks, if nothing is done, I am going to lead you to come out on the streets to do the demonstration again.
This is the first time we are demonstrating so we will give them time to react to concerns raised here today.
“I know we are all annoyed and affected in one way or the other but let’s maintain calm. This is our country, if we do any damage [to it] we are [only] damaging ourselves. Let’s not allow that to happen please,” Jallow urged the crowd.
Rights groups, returnees, stakeholders and other affected family members all took part in the protest.
Saibou Camara, leader and spokesperson of the campaign, who addressed the crowd in a short speech, told them as Gambians they have every right to protest but that every right goes with a responsibility.
He said: “It is not the streets that are going to relay our message to the government. What is important is that the stakeholders will hear our message. We cannot go against the laws because we are angry.”
The German government alone has since December last year deported over 30 Gambian migrants.
But Camara warned that they will not stand by “idly” and watch Gambians continue getting deported.
“This is so unfair and we will not accept it,” he said. “Our citizens like any other, have the right to remain in Europe as migrants or refugees as far as they abide by the laws of the country they are living in.”
The demonstrators also called on European authorities to work to halt the “maltreatment” of their brothers and sisters.
“The last group of 20 deportees that arrived at the Banjul International Airport in February were cuffed and had their legs shackled from Germany to The Gambia,” Camara said. “This is totally wrong and an infringement of their human rights. We demand European police to stop such heartless, wicked and racist acts now. This is very shameful. We are no longer in the time of slavery. We will not tolerate such anymore.”
They also asked President Barrow and his government to continue engaging Europeans to suppress the deportations and condemned those “Gambian immigration officers” who are in Germany identifying Gambians for deportation.
“Gambian immigrants cannot take care of their families or make any useful contribution in The Gambia if they are deported. We are calling on the government to remember the remittances from the diaspora, which is estimated to represent about 30% of the country’s GDP.”
Camara also condemned government’s spin-doctor Ebrima Sankareh for his “discriminatory and castigating” remarks of migrants.
“This approach is ill-advised and the government must improve on their communication skills. We are hereby informing Gambians that Sankareh’s statement dated 4th March indicating that The Gambia Government has supported more than 200 Gambians’ reintegration in Gambia is inaccurate and misleading. We challenge The Gambia Government to provide evidence to this effect.”
However, he said he was not surprised to read those ‘misleading’ remarks. “A government that is unable to bring about solutions to challenges facing her people always resorts to using demeaning descriptions to those who share divergent views, painting them as detractors looking for popularity. That’s a shame,” he said.
A returnee in the crowd told The Standard: “Bringing me back is useless if you can’t reintegrate me to live a decent life. If I don’t rob or steal, I will go back to Germany,” he said.
Activist Alieu Bah said he is struggling to shake off the feeling that “some sort of deal” was not signed.
“Look, you cannot have this mass exodus of our brothers if some agreement or phone call wasn’t made. The German government is not crazy to just bring back Gambians and dump them here just like that. There is something they are not telling us.”