Tuesday, November 7, 2017

To what are Gambian migrants returning home to?

The European Union signed recently a D 200 million grant agreement with IOM and the government of the Gambia, represented by the Interior Minister, as part of the $ 2 billion EU - Africa emergency trust fund.*

The initial tranche is earmarked for the irregular migrants of 1,500 Gambians who will be repatriated from Libya, where many live in squalor and grim conditions and whose lives are under constant threat from human traffickers and bandits. 

According to local reports, the head of IOM said the project is designed to strengthen migration in The Gambia and also to raise awareness of 250 communities.  Awareness programs are also envisaged for the potential 2,500 migrants expected to return on migration options and alternatives which must include training programs to prepare them for reentry into an under performing economy. 

The IOM head emphasized the lengthy and complex nature of reintegrating migrants that must focus beyond economic integration but social, psychological and other aspects as well.  As part of the assistance to the initial batch of irregular migrants coming from Libya, the project provides € 65 (approx. D 3,600) to each of the returnees upon arrival in Banjul to cover their transportation fares to their respective towns and villages and also to take care of incidentals.  The figure has already raised a few eyebrows.

Returnees needs are subsequently assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine the type of assistance accorded to each.  The challenges facing government and returning migrants are huge.  It therefore requires careful and a realistic implementation schedule.  The European Union also must be prepared to make adjustments to the project design to accommodate concerns expressed by local and international development practitioners. 

The Oxfam is reportedly calling for more clarity in the design of these types of emergency projects to avoid them being repackaged as border security projects with no development goals.  The Oxfam EU migration policy adviser, recognizing the quick disbursement nature of emergency projects of the sort being envisaged, is calling for more transparency and accountability.   There are no "quick fixes" to the long and tedious process of reintegrating a group of migrants who have little or no skills to speak of to be successfully integrated into society.

Gambia's reentry program for returnee migrants will require, in addition to the Ministries of Interior, Trade and Youth and Sports, the robust and proactive involvement of  civic society organizations in the monitoring of its implementation by civil society organization specializing in such programs.  Because the stakes are high, the program must be properly implemented with some changes to the original design as suggested by Oxfam and others. 

Public awareness campaign utilizing both the public and private media must be mounted by the implementing agencies, as well as the government, to publicize project objectives.  Government must develop a communication strategy around the reentry program will help the general population understand the process and help, as part of community support mechanism, in easing the reentry pains that returnees are likely to encounter.

* This is the first in a series of blog posts that will examine certain aspects of the EU - Africa emergency trust fund including the implementation of this and similar projects in the pipeline.