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Gambia says backway deaths a tragedy that must be stopped

By Sanna Camara

A two day national dialogue convened by Gambia government, civil society and NGOs had resolved to put an end to the recurring deaths in the deserts and high season of Gambian youths attempting to reach Europe through irregular means.

About 200 participants drawn from community and religious based groups, political parties, youth and women organisations have joined the conveners of the national dialogue, initiated by the association of NGOs and YMCA in The Gambia, to openly dialogue and find solutions to the country’s migration challenges, reinforce and unify national efforts in pursuit of better migration management.

“Our young people embarking on irregular migration is a big concern for all of us. Our young people dying the way they are doing in the desert and the sea is a tragedy that cannot continue,” said Mr Lang Yabou, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad. His ministry hosts the National Coordination Mechanism on Migration – an inter-agency committee of the Gambia government set up to coordinate various government  interventions on migration.

In December 2019, media reports indicated that a boat carrying about 200 migrants heading to Italy had wrecked between Mauritania and Morocco, leading to the death of 30 Gambians, including youths, girls, women and children.

Migrant Rescue Watch Association (MRWA) in January 2023 reportd that his organisation has recorded names of ninety-five (95) Gambian Migrants who died in different countries through the ‘Backway’ journey to Europe during 2022.

In July 2023, a European border monitoring group, Caminando Fronteras (Walking Borders) said  at least 951 people from various countries including The Gambia, including 49 children, have died while trying to reach Spain by sea in the first six months of 2023. It also states that some 19 boats went missing with all the people on board between January and June 2023.

In November 2023,  21 Gambian youths from Bakau died of acute hunger in a migrant boat bound for Spain. While in December 2023, some 27 youths from Kartong and 30 from Jambur were confirmed dead in the boat that left the shores of Gambia on 14th October 2023.

According to Permanent Secretary Yarboe, the business-as-usual model of managing migration did not provide solutions to irregular migration. Hence it is time for a rethink, and through dialogues of this nature, Gambia can do a lot to achieve desired results.

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