In the wake of the heated debate triggered by the deportation of 45 Gambians from the US on 7 March, the US ambassador to The Gambia has clarified her government’s stance on the matter.
In an op-ed issued yesterdays, Mrs C Patricia Alsup wrote: “Over the past several days, I have read with concern some of the stories about Gambian deportees returning from the US. I would like to clear up some misunderstandings and provide more information about this process, and about the important partnership between the United States and The Gambia.
“The US is a nation built on respect for the rule of law, and this includes our immigration law. Just as The Gambia has the right to determine who may or may not stay in The Gambia, the US also determines who is allowed to visit, for how long, and under what conditions. When non-citizens are convicted of crimes in the US, or when they have overstayed their allowed time in the country, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department (ICE) is responsible for returning them to their home countries, when ordered to do so by an immigration judge. Since 2015, ICE has repatriated Gambians in the US via commercial and charter flights, including the 36 Gambian deportees returned to The Gambia on a charter flight in early March.
“An immigration judge presides over full and fair immigration proceedings for each individual. Individuals who have exhausted all their legal options and are found ineligible to remain in the US are ordered removed to their country of origin. Conversations between various entities within the US Government and the Government of The Gambia to repatriate Gambian citizens who are in violation of US laws have been ongoing for over a year with the objective of coordinating lawful repatriations by commercial and/or charter flights as appropriate.
“When individuals refuse to return home on a commercial flight, sometimes after causing a disturbance at the airport, ICE Air Operations conducts special charter flights. In accordance with ICE policy, individuals on removal flights are restrained for the duration of the flight for safety reasons. ICE personnel take every precaution to ensure the safety and welfare of those in their custody, as well as the crew and other personnel on each removal flight.
As with all removal flights, on the March charter medical personnel from the ICE Health Service Corps assessed each individual and determined all were properly fit to travel. ICE also provided a nutritionally balanced diet, prepared and presented in a sanitary and hygienic food service operation during the flight. Well in advance, the US Government advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the charter flight that garnered recent attention, and the Gambian government authorised the flight’s landing clearance and arranged for the appropriate personnel to be on hand for its arrival.
“Prior to departure from the US, each deportee has the opportunity to sell or otherwise dispose of his or her personal items in the US. He or she can also sign a power of attorney while in custody to allow a friend or family member to handle his or her affairs if necessary. Deportees are allowed to bring personal items back with them on the flight, subject to a weight restriction. The US Government does not, however, provide deportees with funds to resettle in their home country. Instead, in The Gambia we work closely with the Barrow administration to strengthen governance, public service delivery, and the economy so that all Gambians, including those returning home, will have the opportunity to thrive…”
“My staff and I at the US Embassy are committed to strengthening the partnership between the US and The Gambia. We continue to look for ways that we can assist The Gambia’s democratic transition, support its economic growth, and stabilise its security sector. I want all Gambians to benefit from the country’s new freedoms, and will continue working hard every day to advance our countries’ shared priorities.”