We learnt you were in Switzerland for official mission. Can you tell us what
this trip was about?
Minister Fatty: This was a very important event. I was at the 68th Statutory Executive Committee meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There were 153 countries that were represented. The meeting is held annually by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Nations gathered in order to review the work of the Standing Committee in the previous year. In this case, the Standing Committee’s performance over the last one year, The Gambia has a central role to play in that. So the main purpose of the meeting was to set the agenda for the next year, to review the state of refugees around the world; migration; for states to present reports that they have to be evaluated covering the past year; and also to make an approval of the budget of the Standing Committee for the next year.
The Gambia participated because we have an experience to share with the world in terms of refugee and migration management. As you know The Gambia is a host country for refugees. We had almost 10,000 refugees living in The Gambia. The figures have gone down to precisely 7,000 over the past couple of months and since this new government came into existence.
We are contributing significantly towards the protection and management of refugees around the world with this kind of refugee population on our ground. We have refugees who are fully integrated into Gambian society. These refugees live among communities and we know the figures, because we have a very comprehensive registration system. They are registered periodically. We have them profiled and we know where they live. We are working with UNHCR office in The Gambia and also the regional office in Dakar. We grant them documentation so that they can move freely in our country. The children are going to school. And so we have all the services. Refugees in The Gambia live like Gambian citizens.
GRTS: As we speak, our brothers and sisters are currently in Libya and Italy, mainly sweating for greener pastures while others who have failed to make it have voluntarily returned. What plans do you have to integrate them to society?
Minister Fatty: The government is not resting on its laurels. The government is working with international partners – the European Union, particularly – to make sure migration can be managed properly. And we want it to serve the development interest of The Gambia. The President and the government believe that the long-term approach to migration should encourage private sector growth in The Gambia. Businesses and enterprises have to be established that will help spur economic growth to enable young people to have jobs.
GRTS: Can you tell us the current state of drug misuse or use in the country?
Minister Fatty: We have an institution under the Ministry of the Interior, called the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. It is a very strong and effective agency doing a tremendous job in terms of drug interdiction, interception, prosecution and preventing the abuse of drugs in the country. The drugs that are in the country come from other parts of the world, but it’s being exaggerated. The amount of drug abuse seems to be a little bit on the rise since the coming into effect of the new government. And because of the sense of freedom that Gambians feel, the young people, in particular. But then the law is clear. Peddling in drugs and abuse of drugs continue to be illegal and the agents of the Drug Law Enforcement Agency, together with the police and other law enforcement outfits will continue to clamp down on the trafficking and abuse of drugs
GRTS: Is drugs a health or criminal problem?
Minister Fatty: The problem can be viewed differently. The Gambia depends on its young people. The future of this country is in the hands of the young. If these young people are introduced to drugs, the future of the country will be mortgaged by drug dealers and peddlers. The Ministry of Interior is intensifying its activities, through the Drug Law Enforcement Agency and The Gambia government is committed and ready to put in more resources, in order to stem the flow of drugs into our country and also its abuse.
GRTS: The past government’s approach to drugs was criminal. With a new and democratic government place, are we expecting a new approach?
Minister Fatty: The way the new government sees crime is different. This is why prison reform is also coming. It’s going to be a different way of doing business. We believe that people can be rehabilitated. We believe that when people get misguided, it falls upon society to bring them back on track. We have to have a humanistic and human rights approach. Much as the laws must be enforced, the approach of this government centres on the human person to make the human person a better citizen.
GRTS: What are the types of drugs that are threatening to destroy the cream of our society – the young people?
Minister Fatty: Most of the drugs that are usually abused in The Gambia are soft drugs. Cannabis, predominantly, is the drug that we are battling with. But we do have an incursion on hard drugs, as well. Our law enforcement agents are very vigilant. We have very good seizures at the moment and prosecutions are also ongoing. The young people must understand that drugs are not the way. And I’m sending a warning to drug dealers that we will be on their tail.
GRTS: Finally, can you comment on the issue of passports and ID cards?
Minister Fatty: The issue of ID cards is not the creation of this government. We did not create the problem of ID cards, we found it here. When this government came in, there were complexities of contracts and some are not in the best interest of the country. So, we came in and we had to resolve just like many other issues. We have to give this country a national identification system that is consistent with international standards. We took time to look at it critically so that we can eliminate some of the distortions and fraud involved in it. The Ministry has concluded that it is time now to give Gambians a national identification system that they deserve. Cabinet has approved and a process is now in place. This process of consultation by the Ministries of Interior and Finance and others will be completed very soon. Government will be engaging key stakeholders who are involved and a national identification system should be in place. And we hope this will happen between November and December – if all goes well. I want to tell you that passports are being issued. We have not stopped the issuance of passports. We have terminated the issuance of Machine Readable Passports, but the biometric passport production is ongoing and any Gambian who wants a passport can get it.
Ethiene Silva conducted this interview on October 10, 2017
[Transcribed by the Ministry of the Interior]