Moro, you warn young Gambians who consider migrating to Europe about coming here. Why is that?
Most young Gambians imagine Europe to be a beautiful place full of chances. They are hoping to find work, to get an education and to improve their skills. But all these expectations are crushed once they arrive in the refugee camps. There, they lose hope while waiting for their papers and end up at Görlitzer Park. I wanted to come to Europe to study but since my arrival more than four years ago, I was neither able to work nor to study. Only recently was I able to start my integration course.
The German Federal Office supported “Youth Against Irregular Migration”, a Gambian NGO founded by migrant returnees, with 55,000 euro in 2018 (according to a press inquiry by the author) to inform young Gambians about the dangers along the journey to Europe and to prevent them from leaving in the first place. What do you think about such measures?
Europe wants to scare those people. But they already know about the dangers of the journey. What I would love to see is an organization in Africa that warns people about the dangers of living in Europe. As a black person, it is hard to make a living here. Your identity is always visible. No matter how long you stay, you will never be considered a European citizen. Rather than stopping people from migrating, European politicians should provide Africans chances to make a living in their home countries.
Only 4.7 percent of Gambians were granted asylum in Germany in 2017. Meanwhile, the German government is encouraging Gambian migrants and refugees to start their lives over in their home countries through the “voluntarily return program”.
The program is plain propaganda. This is what I heard from people who took part in it. As an individual voluntary returnee, you receive 400 euro before your departure. The people in charge tell you that they will get everything ready for you and that you will receive another 400 euro upon arrival. But once you arrive the immigration officer will tell you that there is no money. He will just write down your name and tell you to go. Someone even told me that they lack the resources to give returnees a public transport ticket to go to their hometown. The money provided by the EU is embezzled by the state.
So corruption still a problem, even under the new government of Adama Barrow who won the elections in 2016 after former dictator Yahya Jammeh had been in office for 22 years?
Yes. The country improved in terms of infrastructure and democratic values such as freedom of the press and freedom of speech. But in terms of migration, nothing changed for returnees.
But is it not the International Organization of Migration (IOM) that is supposed to hand out the funds to the returnees?
Nobody knows if IOM is working for the government or if they function independently. There should be an independent organization run by deportees or returnees themselves who give out those funds. European politicians urge Gambians to go back to their country without taking in consideration the mental state of these people. Most of them endured a very difficult journey. They feared for their lives in Libya and on the Mediterranean Sea where they saw people being killed right next to them. What are they going to do back in the Gambia with their frustration, confusion, and trauma?
You tell me.
In the end, this will only lead to chaos. And it will discourage people who want to return. If they hear that these returnees ended up stranded at the airport, they’d rather sell drugs at Görlitzer Park than go home empty handed.
What do you suggest?
Those who are already here should be given a chance to integrate into German society and the labour market by offering vocational training. Then, let them decide: either they stay or they go back to their home countries and create something for their community. In the meantime, they send remittances to their families and spend the other half of their income in Europe.
What about those waiting for opportunities in the Gambia? People under the age of 25 make up about 60 percent of the population and the unemployment rate is high.
There is a big lack of exchange between African and European qualifications. If the German government was to develop an engineering project in the Gambia, Germany would prefer to send their own experts instead of integrating Gambian engineers. Germany could easily train Gambian engineers inside Germany who could then apply their skills at home and exchange them in the region. But Germany does not want Africa to surpass their knowledge. Germany wants to stay in power.
As for training inside the Gambia, the European Union has pledged 37.9 million euro as part of the European Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) in 2017. The largest portion of the money is intended to generate employment opportunities for young people and is carried out by organizations such as the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).
So far I’m not sure who is behind those projects. I would be happy to see former returnees involved in them. If they were to create sustainable jobs, I would be happy. But I am against Germany giving money directly to the Gambian government.
What kind of industries should be considered for these projects?
In the Gambia we have very fertile lands and access to water. Therefore, farming, poultry, and the fish industry are very important sectors. What we lack are manufactured goods like tractors and other machinery. We also need to establish a functioning processing industry as we export raw goods and materials but produce little on our own. Instead, we should buy what we cultivate. We should also export the manufactured goods with our own prices instead of depending on imports. This is a problem in most African countries.
Could it not also be a strategy to improve the exchange within Africa? Not only in terms of goods but also in terms of (wo)manpower?
There is the Economic Community of West-African States (ECOWAS) which promotes mobility between countries. African organizations never work without European intervention. The African Union wants to issue their own passport and is supposed to meet next month to discuss the design. This would be great since freedom of movement within Africa has been restricted by colonization and the divide between Francophone and Anglophone nations. France in particular still has a big impact on its former colonies. As long as the African nations listen to people from outside, I do not think it will happen.
Moro Yapha is a Gambian educator and activist living in Germany since 2014. He is one of the founders of “Wearebornfree! Empowernment Radio” – a weekly program reaching out to other refugee activists in the diaspora as well as Africans back home. Through his engagement at fixpunkt e.V., Moro also teaches African drug dealers and consumers at Görlitzer Park in Berlin about health risks and their rights.
The author confronted IOM with these claims. The organization answered in January 2019: "[T]he returnees are given a leeway of one month upon return to visit our office to register, where we engage in a process of counselling and, in some cases, medical assistance. They are then able to claim their reintegration assistance six to eight months after return. From 2017 to 2018, we were expected to receive 69 returns, 45 of which have registered at our office (26 in 2017, 19 in 2018). Some of those who returned in 2018 are still awaiting the collection date for their assistance, while in rare cases some do not come back at all to collect their assistance. At no instance has IOM registered a returnee from Germany and not processed their assistance."