Migration from The Gambia, a nation located in West Africa, has become extremely common due to widespread poverty and the belief that Europe offers more opportunities for success. Thousands of Gambians have begun the difficult journey across Africa to Libya, where they hope to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. Families sometimes believe so strongly that Europe is the solution for their children that they spend the last of their money to sponsor the trip.
Journey to Europe
Many migrants are not successful with this journey, however, and get stuck in Libyan prisons, where they often face gruelling conditions. Women are also particularly vulnerable, some of whom have been kidnapped and sold while attempting to reach Europe. Migrants who return to The Gambia because they are unable to get to Europe, perhaps due to detention in Libya, are often looked down upon by other Gambians, who believe that they simply did not try hard enough.
In response to the growing dangers associated with migration, several organizations are working to decrease migration from The Gambia and help Gambians who tried to migrate resettle in their country. In The Gambia, Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM) and Returnees From The Backway (RFTB) were formed, while international organizations including the European Union’s Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) developed programs for this cause.
Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM)
YAIM was created in 2017 by Gambian youths detained in a Libyan prison. One of the founders, Ndow, told IRIN News, “We were treated like slaves; we didn’t take a bath for months, so we tried to escape and they beat us seriously.” After this experience, Ndow, along with Sallah, Tunkara and Keita decided that once they got out of the prison they would share their stories and try to prevent other Gambians from attempting to migrate.
YAIM is also working to help Gambians find opportunities in The Gambia, rather than looking to Europe. They advocate for looking for local opportunities, although they recognize this persepcitve requires a significant change in the mindsets of many Gambians, as Europe has been idealized for so long.
YAIM spreads their message through social media, roadshows and airwaves. They finished their second “youth caravan” in the summer of 2018, both of which were sponsored by the German Embassy in Banjul. Thirty YAIM members traveled as a part of the caravan to two different regions in The Gambia, and spoke in public, high-traffic areas. YAIM recognizes the importance of its work and hopes that their efforts will make a difference in reducing migration from The Gambia.
Returnees From The Backway (RFTB)
Like YAIM, RFTB was founded in a Libyan detention center. This group focuses on helping migrants who have returned to The Gambia transition back into society by reducing the stigma associated with returning to the nation. RFTB spreads their message through tea ritual sessions, known as attaya, which are often attended by Gambian men.
Ultimately, RFTB wants to provide agricultural training to returnees and use the land given to them by the Kerewan local government to set up a farm run by returned migrants. If this project is successful, RFTB would like to expand and set up farms across the nation.
European Union’s Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF)
At an international level, the European Union established the Trust Fund for Africa in 2015 to help manage the flow of migrants from Africa into Europe. As a part of this Trust Fund, the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) — which currently has 11 million Euros in funding — wants to help young people in Africa gain entrepreneurial skills to help create jobs and expand markets.
In The Gambia, YEP plans to help over 7,000 youths complete technical or vocational training, support the return of migrants from Europe, encourage the creation of modern manufacturing jobs and services, and raise awareness amongst young populations about the importance of skills training. Their goal is to decrease migration from The Gambia by invigorating the Gambian economy and showing youths that they do not need to leave.
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
IOM launched their Migrant Protection and Reintegration program in November of 2017. This program will offer reintegration packages to migrants that will help them rebuild their lives in The Gambia. Like the other three organizations, they are attempting to change the mindset of Gambians, encouraging them to view The Gambia as a place with opportunity and potential.
One of the specific projects the IOM is supporting is the founding of a large-scale chicken raising business in Parkour that will provide employment to returnees and help them regain their social standing and earn an income. Similar to the RFTB’s plan to create a migrant-run farm, this initiative will empower returnees and perhaps inspire others to consider returning if they know there are opportunities.
Advocacy and Prosperity
These local and international organizations are taking an important step by focusing on the improvement of The Gambia and discouraging people from embarking on a journey that is often unsafe and sometimes fatal.
Once more people understand the realities of migrating and develop more faith in their country, migration from The Gambia will hopefully begin to decline, increasing safety and prosperity.
– Sara Olk