The forum was funded by the Centre for the study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa.
The expected outcome of the forum amongst others included a deeper understanding of issues affecting returnees as well as the root causes of irregular migration by national and local officials and the devising of a concrete blueprint to address the challenges faced by returnees, especially women in cooperation with local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
Mustapha Sallah, Secretary General Youth Against Irregular Migration (YAIM) saidmigrants and returnees are a resource in The Gambia’s political transition.
He added that having been abroad, they gathered skills and awareness which are key to contributing to the development of The Gambia but unfortunately, these capacities are often not utilised to the maximum due to issues of discrimination and stigmatisation which still characterise the attitude of most Gambians especially towards returnees.
Alagie Jarju, Executive Director National Youth Council (NYC) said reintegration is an essential part in return migration, noting that it empowers and protects returnees by providing them the necessary tools and assistance needed to ensure they are able to settle within their families and society.
However, he stated that this cannot be sustained if the reason for them leaving is not addressed.
According to him, TheGambia Government through its partners is conscious of why young people are leaving the country and is working with partners to provide capacity where it is needed such that they will be able to address the felt need of young people especially in creating opportunities for them for training and employment for them to be able to better their lives and livelihoods and prevent them from taking the dangerous route.
He further said that they are not only committed to ending youth irregular migration but also ensure those returning are returned, reintegrated and sustained.
He assured YAIM of their support as a Council, adding that they will also work with them to implement recommendations from the forum.
Basiru Bah, Legal Officer Research at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said migrants in an irregular situation are likely to be more vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and marginalisation, often living and working in the shadows and afraid to complain and denied their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Mr. Bah highlighted that The Gambia has become an increasingly famous destination for migrant returnees,vast majority of whom are youth,sayingmigrants must be allowed to enjoy safe and peaceful return and transition when they come back to The Gambia.
He further said that irregular migrants are often left without human rights or a place in the very society they long to join.Also, they are denied connection and integration into the society of destination.
“Government must support returnees with psychosocial and physical support,” he added, sayingas a state we must stand and support migrants because they are humans with rights and freedoms.
Etienne Michllef, Programme Manager for International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said they supported around 6,600 Gambian returnees from January 2017 until December 2021.
He called for the need to work together to make sure migrants no matter their status if they travel within the ECOWAS zone with their biometric ID Cards are allowed and their rights respected.
He also called for a national budget for reintegration assistance for returnees.