Outlined in House Resolution 89, Gambia is noted to have dealt with a leader who did not meet international standards of promoting human rights. Throughout his 22-year rule, President Yahya Jammeh consistently governed without regard for minority groups or those who opposed his regime. Refugees have left Gambia in search of a life that is not susceptible to Jammeh’s authority. Here are 10 facts about Gambian refugees.
- The majority of Gambian refugees are young males. Hundreds have fled for Europe. Stories of Gambian refugees arriving in Italy or Spain reached remote villages through Facebook and texting.
- Making the grueling exodus from Africa has become easier over time. Smuggling networks have expanded due of deterioration in Libya, allowing Gambian refugees to escape through unsecured channels. Many Gambian refugees are fleeing possible forced servitude and sexual slavery.
- The country has become a hub for the African trade network operating human trafficking throughout several parts of Africa, including Senegal. Gambian refugees and those from other sub-Saharan nations hope to reach North Africa in order to eventually reach Europe.
- Gambian citizens were greatly impoverished under the regime of President Jammeh; only those within his sphere were able to accumulate any wealth. Those who were not as fortunate ended up earning $100 dollars a month. Refugees lived under extreme poverty.
- The government of Gambia did not respect the freedom of the media. Through criminal prosecutions and physical intimidation, censorship of journalism was carried out. Journalists were susceptible to cruel and degrading treatment by the government. A percentage of those escaping Gambia were journalists.
- Conditions along smuggling routes are very unsafe. Boats capsizing or smugglers abandoning people along desert routes are a reality for many Gambian refugees.
- A growing number of refugees are literate, but unable to find work matching their skill set. This is similar to China in the ’60s and is a primary reason many refugees leave Gambia.
- A percentage of refugees were a part of the LGBT community. Jammeh sought to cultivate what the Washington Post called a “bizarre mythology around himself as a man who could cure AIDS and threatened to personally slit the throats of gay men.”
- Many of Gambia’s refugees were held as political prisoners, including officials of parties in opposition to the president.
- In the recent election, Jammeh lost to Adam Barrow. However, some are concerned about the political tensions resulting from that decision, so many are sending their children as refugees to Senegal.
With Adama Barrow now president of Gambia, the country can look forward to positive change. The region has been known for corruption and scandals and has failed to effectively represent its people. Gambian refugees were escaping the regime of a leader who did not operate a democratic nation. Their new government represents change in a positive direction.
– Nick Katsos