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Returning migrants to The Gambia: the political, social and economic costs

Franzisca Zanker | Freiburg University

Hardly a day goes by without a discussion on the migrants (including refugees) who have entered Europe in large numbers since 2015. Under the European Union Commission’s New Partnership Framework launched in 2016, one of the major short-term objectives is to ‘increase the rate of returns to countries of origin’, and last week, the president of the EU Commission announced a ‘more effective EU policy on return’. That said, return is tricky. It is unclear how effective it is in deterring future migration. And it may even have detrimental effects on the countries of origin. Take the Gambia for example.

Gambians were among the top nationalities leaving West Africa for Italy in 2016. In total 11,929 Gambians arrived last year. But because they have a new democratically-elected government, European countries are now looking to increase the returns of Gambian migrants. A Working Party on Integration, Migration and Expulsion has already met at the European Council to discuss a draft agreement on returns between the EU and the Gambia.

A key element of return to the Gambia is the role that returnees can play once they are back and how well accepted they will be. Without a thriving labour market such reintegration will be challenging and at worst could lead to conflict among a group of frustrated young men.

Difficulty of reintegrating economically

The first challenge for returnees is that their chances of employment once they’re back in The Gambia remains slim. General unemploymentis at 29.8%, and for youth it is estimated to be 38.5%.

Efforts are being made to tackle the root causes of migration by creating jobs. For example, new development projects are being launched in the Gambia including a 13-million-dollar EU Emergency Trust Fund project. This is a good start, but the project has just been launched and will take time to implement. It has also been criticised for a lack of ownership,

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