Permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad on Tuesday confirmed that deportations indeed took place in recent weeks between Germany and The Gambia.
“However, those citizens have exhausted all legal means to stay in those countries from where they are being deported,” Mr. Sulayman Njie, permanent secretary at the Foreign Ministry said.
The issue of Gambian migrants in Germany was on the agenda when German President visited Banjul in December 2017. During bilateral talks with the Gambian President, the two countries agreed to mutually cooperate on the issue of the migration guided by international best practices.
Mr. Njie said The Gambia did not sign any deportation agreement with the European Union or any of its member states. Rather, they are bound by some international documents that guide their cooperation on this contentious issue of migration.
“I am not aware of an agreement on any deportations cooperation between [Gambia] government and the German government. What I am aware of is a ‘Good Practices Document’ detailing modality for migration cooperation between the EU and government,” he further explained.
Between the 19th and 20th of November 2020, some 20 Gambian migrants were deported from Germany to Banjul. Reports confirmed that the exercise was conducted in utmost secrecy between the two countries, leading to much speculation among the public on both sides.
“Those repatriated are those who have exhausted all legal means to stay in Europe,” Mr. Njie maintained in an exchange on this matter this week.
However, he would not discuss further whether this document specifically includes The Gambia allowing its citizens in the EU to be repatriated when such requests are made by the [German or the EU] government.
Under international law, The Gambia is obliged to accept returnees who've exhausted all legal means to stay in foreign countries like the US and the EU. And as far as the Gambia Foreign Ministry is concerned, it was just in that context when they received deportees from Germany in recent weeks.
“All countries worldwide have the sovereign right to deport other nationals from their territory when warranted,” Mr. Njie maintained.
New flight due this December?
There are already reports that a new flight of Gambian migrants is due for arrival in Banjul around 22nd December 2020. This has not been independently confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so far as talks between The Gambia and the Federal Republic of Germany continue over mass repatriations.
There are at least 2,000 Gambians in Germany who are due for deportation. These numbers have committed no crimes beside having their applications to stay in Germany rejected by the authorities.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad, Dr. Mamadou Tangara would not respond to messages seeking information on this matter.
His permanent secretary, Mr. Njie would not comment either. The official would instead refer this reporter to the Office of The Vice President that is said to be the chair to the National Committee on Migration.
Efforts made to solicit comments from the Vice President’s office proved futile as the permanent secretary was said to be on leave. The protocol officer to the VP, Mr. Paul Preirra requested for a formal letter of request to the Vice President seeking any information on the issue.
Even after it was done and sent to him, he returned with response that “this letter is not signed” and urged that the request be directed to other relevant offices.
A National Coordination Mechanism on Migration?
However, this is what we know so far about government response to the EU cooperation on repatriation exercise of its citizens from the EU.
A taskforce was constituted by government comprising representatives of the Office of The President and that of the Vice President; ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs, Youth and Sports, the National Youth Council. The task force also includes the Ministry of Trade, Employment and Regional Integration as well as the Immigration Department.
Their Terms of References include advising government on migration matters especially the return and reintegration of migrants.
Since its inception, it held only few meetings before any major work was conducted. Those yet to be done include reception of migrants returnees from transit countries with development and multilateral partners; bilateral negotiations, meetings with EU Delegation in The Gambia and EU bloc outside The Gambia.
A member of the committee said: “My personal opinion is that the National Coordination Mechanism for migration management that was established should be operationalised. And government’s engagement should be proactive and more at bilateral levels with member states of the EU, than with the EU as a bloc.”
German government negotiations
Another member of the Committee who spoke with this reporter said they have not been able to conduct any substantive discussion with the German authorities since they have been approached by that country’s representatives almost a year ago.
“We merely floated the idea of an MoU which will pave the way for direct negotiation and constructive agreement with Germany and the EU. But the advent of Covid-19 pandemic effectively interrupted our plans. So, at the moment no deal is in play regarding this unfortunate situation,” the source said.
The source added that they are also following this “sad news of deportation” of Gambians from Germany and the EU on social media.
“Our government taskforce has not been officially informed about any potential deportation,” the source added.
“Beyond that, I am not privy to any significant policy on migration or deportation,” the source maintained.