ExplainersThe Gambia

Analysing claims EU bribed The Gambia government to deport migrants from Europe

Since 2019, heated debates have been around the mass deportation of Gambian migrants from Europe. Some had accused the Gambia government of “secretly” signing an agreement with the European Union (EU) to deport Gambian migrants – even though the government has consistently denied the claim.

However, a senior government official admitted before the National Assembly last year that there were agreements with the EU to deport Gambian asylum migrants.

Recently, there has been a surge in the number of deportations, a development which puts The Gambia government under intense backlash.

The ´Secret’ Deal

In 2017, the European Union and The Gambia government signed a Good Practice Document. This requires the Gambia government to accept deportees. That year, the German President, Frank Walter Steinmeier, visited The Gambia, making him the first European head of State to visit the country after Gambian President, Adama Barrow, took over. The purpose of the visit was not disclosed, but there are claims that the issue of deportation was on the agenda.

The allegation was that The Gambian government accepted “bribes” to agree to this deal, a claim denied by the government.

In a publication by The Standard, German-based migration activist Yahya Sonko claimed: “The EU is threatening financial sanctions and the Gambia government fears that could have far-reaching implications, and it is happy to accept deportees.”

Ousainu Darboe, former Foreign Affairs Minister and Vice President of The Gambia, was accused of being behind the deal. However, Mr Darboe has maintained that the claim is untrue.

In December 2020, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad, Sulayman Njie, when faced with allegations of bribery against the Gambian government, said: “I am not aware of an agreement on any deportations cooperation between [Gambia] government and the German government. I am aware of a ´Good Practice Document´ detailing the modality for migration cooperation between the EU and the government.

“Those repatriated are those who have exhausted all the legal means to stay in Europe,” Njie stated.

Following the deportations of Gambian migrants from Germany in December 2020, the Swiss Government, in January 2021, during former Vice-President, Isatou Touray´s visit, announced that they signed deportation agreements with the Gambian government. The former Vice President denied this, saying her visit to Switzerland has ´nothing to do with deportation.´ Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) also denied knowledge of any deportation plans.

The Standard publication revealed it obtained a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed to the Defence Ministry requesting flight and landing clearance for a repatriation flight in 2022.

In another letter, the medium claimed to have obtained the Ministry of Defence’s response to the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s request, granting clearance for the flight to Banjul International Airport.

The Defence Ministry reportedly wrote: “I wish to inform you that approval has been granted for overflight and landing clearance to repatriate two Gambian nationals from Switzerland on 24th February 2022.”

The Interior Minister, Yankuba Sonko, in February 2022, admitted to the National Assembly members that the Gambia government signed a `Good Practice Document’ with the European Union in 2017 to repatriate Gambians who failed in their asylum application. Before this, the Gambian government had never made any such admission publicly.

“A technical team was established comprising of all stakeholders in the country who, after consultation, agreed on certain procedures or modalities that the EU and The Gambia could consider in the repatriation process. One of these modalities is for The Gambia to receive notification regarding the returnees. This is to help the country prepare for the reception to avoid excessive reception capacity,” he explained.

The ministers of Foreign Affairs and Interior clashed over the deportation agreements with Germany before parliamentarians. Lawmakers wanted to know about the ¨first 25 and second 20 undocumented Gambians deported from Germany.¨ Both denied signing deportation agreements for those migrants to be deported.

“We should also know who gave those migrants documents to be able to come back because Germany doesn’t have the right to bundle them just like that and put them into a plane, and I know certainly our mission didn´t give them the documents,” claimed Mamadou Tangara.

The Anger and Frustration

From 2019 to date, protests have been against the deportation of Gambian nationals, both home and abroad.

“Adama Barrow and his government are not helping the country, but they are causing more plights and suffering to Gmbians. They are sending immigration officers to Europe to work with the European governments to deport our Gambian children from Europe. This has to be stopped. Gambians are tired of this deportation. And we will make sure it ends,” an angry protester told the media during a protest by the Concerned Gambians, a group of youth activists.

“Every family member should go out and demonstrate against the government culture. It has never been this worrying. Some Gambians here in Germany are running from their homes. It is traumatising. That’s why we demonstrated last Saturday in Stuttgart to call on the EU and the Gambia government to halt the deportations. One of our demands is for The Gambia to review the so-called ´Good Practice Agreement´ it signed with the EU because that agreement is not in the interest of The Gambia,” Mr Sonko opined.

Degrading Treatment

Media reports show that migrants who use the ´back route´ to Europe are subjected to ill and degrading treatment. Many uncertainties surround the journey. For most, it is a journey of no return.

Irregular migrants are kidnapped, tortured and, in other cases, especially women, sexually assaulted and abused. It seems that not only thugs but also the authorities treat them as less than human.

According to Mr Sonko: ¨When the German police go to detention centres to get our boys out, they get chained like a bag of rice and thrown in the back of a truck. In the last deportation, 130 German officers escorted the boys to The Gambia. Imagine 130 police officers escorting just 35 migrants. It’s painful. They treat them like murderers. I’m calling on the National Human Rights Commission to investigate these incidents.¨

Some deportees have disclosed that they are handcuffed during the flight.

´No Plans for Reintegration´

When migrants are forcefully returned, for many, it means starting from scratch. In this DW report, a returnee explains his experience, including the frustrating living conditions he has had to adjust to.

“The government people say everyone they wanna deport is a criminal, but I don’t have any problem in Germany. My whole three years, I cannot comment nothing. Only work and to my home, do a little bit of training and finish and go to school. But it’s really hard for me right now because of they deport me without money. I lost my job in Germany. I´m here in Banjul. I don’t have any support from anybody,¨ he told DW.

According to the National Youth Council, the government “is doing its best within the available resources to provide reintegration support to Gambian migrants brought back home, be they voluntarily or forcefully returned.¨

There are people of the view that the Youth Council is not doing enough.

In another DW report, Momodou Sabally, a social scientist, argued: ¨From the National Youth Council, to the International Organisation for Migration and the EU projects, all they are interested in is a few success stories that they can brand and put on billboards in the country. Nothing is being done here. This country is not ready, is not able to handle these returnees, and it is better for the international community to make sure our young people are kept there.¨

In his response, Miko Alazas, a staff of IOM, retorted: “As IOM or any UN agency or any international organisation, our role in any country is to support the government. It´s a bit unfair to say that any international organisation will solve the entire problem independently. IOM´s assistance is in AVRR, which is assistance voluntary returnee reintegration but at the same time, we understand that IOM cannot support returnees forever and I think we all need to work together with different organisations to address this issue.¨

In 2021, the Gambia government refused to accept deported migrants from Europe. This was described to be politically motivated, as it was done ahead of the presidential elections after the country had already received other returnees before that year. The government argued that the country could not reintegrate them. Following this move, the European Union planned to tighten visa requirements for Gambian nationals.

Evidently, the country is not ready to receive these returnees. The unemployment rate is on the rise, but there has been a drastic increase in the number of deportees The Gambia receives, as the country is reported to receive deportation flights every month.

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