The Gambia Government Has Responsibility to Cooperate in Deportation of its Citizens

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By Dr. Ousman Gajigo, Banjul, The Gambia

Recently, there have been complaints from many people that the government has cooperated with foreign countries in the deportation of Gambian nationals. These complaints were particularly magnified when the US deported 45 Gambians in March 2018. The complaints are made in such a way to imply that the government is complicit in the betrayals of its citizens when it intervenes in any way to make deportations possible. Some commentators, including some deportees, have been whipping themselves in such frenzies that they are calling for the ouster of this government. This belief is fundamentally mistaken.

Not only is it the right thing for a responsible government to cooperate in this matter, it is actually their responsibility. In the international arena, countries have obligations and responsibilities both to their citizens and to other countries.

There is no denying the fact that being deported is a traumatic experience and it is something most of us can empathize with even without firsthand experience. After all, some of these individuals have been torn away from families and uprooted from places they have come to consider as their homes. Even when a deportee expects it, the act of being removed must be painful. These individuals deserve our sympathies and understanding.

However, their painful experience notwithstanding, the government has a responsibility to cooperate in the deportation of its citizens when their nationality is not in doubt and their human rights are not being trampled. This is because we would expect the government to intervene on our behalf when our welfare or rights are under threat in any country even without any deportation being involved. A government that fails to acknowledge the nationality of its citizens and cooperate in receiving them is a government that abdicates its responsibility to intervene on their behalf if some injustice is done to them for some other reason.

Not cooperating in the deportation of its nationals would actually mean a greater potential injustice to most of its nationals abroad. Let’s not forget the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Gambians living in foreign countries. Most of these Gambians are law-abiding and face little threat of being deported. A government that refuses to acknowledge the nationalities of its citizens being deported is a government that would hamper its ability to assist those who may need its intervention if their rights are threatened. In fact, if the government develops a reputation of willfully failing its responsibility, it could have an adverse effect on the travels of all other Gambians.

Recall that in 2016, the US Government limited the travel of Gambian Government officials to the US because the Yahya Jammeh government was not cooperating in the deportation of Gambians. While that irresponsible behavior by the Jammeh government, which can best be described as futile grandstanding, may have provided temporary reprieve to those about to be deported, it only delayed the inevitable. In the meantime, it was very likely that important government activities were adversely affected, the effects of which were more far-reaching to the whole country than the fate of a few individuals being deported.

I am aware of the fact that being deported does not mean being automatically guilty of a crime. Entering a country without proper documents or over-staying one’s visa, while technically illegal in the host country, is a kind of “crime” that is not morally reprehensible for the simple reason that it does not have a “victim” like violent or property crimes. Nevertheless, in an age of national states, national laws reign supreme whether or not those breaking them are committing “crimes” with moral baggage.

Going forward, it is more useful to get used to the reality that deportations from advanced countries is going to increase. This reality is affecting not only The Gambia but so many countries across the world. When The Gambia received 45 deportees in March 2018, Ghana and Kenya received over 400 and 150 respectively from the US. So, The Gambia is far from unique in receiving deportees from the US and other countries that have been receiving Gambian economic migrants.

What’s more, the wave of deportees is likely to rise. Take Germany, for example. The country received about 14,795 Gambian asylum applications between 2008 and 2017 and announced last year that it would start rejecting many of these applicants given that the basis of their applications was the authoritarian Jammeh regime, which is now gone. Italy has processed 37,215 Gambian asylum applications between 2008 and 2017. Even if only fractions of these individuals are deported, it would be a highly significant figure. In the case of the US, the country has a backlog of about 2000 Gambians already served with deportation orders who can arrive any moment.

This is the right moment for the government to be proactive in putting in place plans to handle this coming problem. Preparedness is important not only because it may be necessary for future stability but also because the country as a whole owe so much to a certain class of our citizens abroad.

It is also morally imperative for the government to be prepared to help reintegrate these deportees for the reason that many have been contributing to development through assistance they provide in remittances. Innumerable number of families are supported by relatives abroad. Furthermore, countless number of businesses got their start-up capital in a similar way. Deportations therefore, have a devastating impact not only on the individual deportees but also in disrupting support for whole families that were supported by the deportees.

Nevertheless, Gambians should be told the truth about the inevitability of rising deportations so that we are prepared. The matter is too important to be left to individuals and groups to give it all manners of wrong characterization to gain capital out of it, be it political or otherwise.  To accuse the government of betrayal just because it cooperates in the deportation of its citizens is to allow one’s emotion to overwhelm objective reality.

The Barrow government is not doing any betrayal of Gambians by cooperating. Deportations will continue, and at a higher rate. Some of these deportations are due to the committing of crimes but not all are crime-related cases. This unfairness is a simple fact of life. While the government has a responsibility to assist Gambians in need, there is no fundamental right against deportation when the individual runs afoul of the host country’s immigration regulations or laws.

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