By Tabora Bojang
The minister of Tourism and Culture and the minister of Foreign Affairs, have both called for an immediate end to the unnecessary harassment Gambians arriving in the country encounter at the Banjul airport.
Hamat NK Bah and Ousainou Darboe made these remarks during yesterday’s forum for all service related personnel at the airport organised by the Gambia Tourism Board as part of their annual consultative meeting with stakeholders.
The meeting was aimed at improving and ensuring a well-functioning tourism and aviation services and it coincided with the arrival of the first tourist flight of the new season.
“As foreign Affairs minister I have had a lot of complaints from Gambians particularly against customs officials. A Gambian coming home with five mobile phones; one for an aunt, a cousin, a nephew, a father are forced to pay customs duties are the sort of complaints made,” Darboe said.
He added: ”Of course we have not yet divorced ourselves completely from the attitudes of the previous administration; we still use our uniforms and offices to really make travelers uncomfortable including Gambians particularly those Gambians who obtain other nationalities or carrying passports of other countries, especially who are subjected to thorough interrogation when they are in their own home. This is totally unacceptable”.
He however said that he did not mean that security should be neglected. ”You must continue to ensure security and safety alertness as the world is facing challenges of terrorism,” he said.
Mr Darboe said his ministry is working with the Interior ministry to introduce procedures of applying visas throughonline and also to ensure tourists coming to the Gambia come visa-free or visa on arrival.
For his part, the Hon Minister of Tourism and culture Hamat NK Bah said the Government of Adama Barrow is ready to support the tourism ministry for everything that it wants to increase efficiency and output of tourism.
He expressed his disappointment about the manner in which the various security agents handle Gambians when they arrive in their own country during visits.
“You are considered a criminal until you exit this airport. This is why Gambians are happy landing in Dakar than landing in their own country. That is the fact, because they believe when you come here you are treated like a criminal,” Bah said.
The Tourism Minister also decried the existence of the Screening Room at the Airport commonly known as the Dark Room, where he alleged suspected tourists and travelers are unfairly and inhumanly treated. He said this room should be unconditionally closed.