Officials from the Gambian Embassy in Washington said that the governments of The Gambia and the United States are working closely to verify the country of origin of 2,000 Gambian would be deportees in a bid for Washington to rescind visa restrictions imposed on Banjul officials.
“The Gambia, as a sovereign nation and a friend of the U.S. is processing U.S. government request. As of now, the verification of the citizenship of these detainees is in process and the two governments are working closely to ascertain the country of origin of these detainees,” Sheikh Omar Faye, Gambian Ambassador to United States said.
The U.S. last put the restrictions on Guyana, which quickly complied to U.S. request as well. Gambia Embassy Washington said it is only processing request for those in homeland security detention.
Gambian officials however denied that thousands of its citizens are up for deportation. The Embassy on 16th Street said only 11 of its citizens are known to be under deportation for committing crimes in the United States and have asked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to finance the cost of having Gambian immigration officials travel to Washington to identify and process them.
“Currently, there are 11 individuals that the U.S. wants to deport to The Gambia on criminal and or immigration grounds. The U.S. government has solicited Gambian officials to provide these detainees with travel documents and to approve their deportation to The Gambia,’ a statement from The Gambia Embassy verified.
The Gambia had for long not being issuing emergency travel documents to deport its citizens in the United States and the United Kingdom, raising rumors that there is more to the visa ban placed on Gambian authorities than the official reason made public by the U.S. government.
The restrictions came some weeks after The Gambia signed agreed to a military cooperation deal offered by Russia, which is looking for a foot-hole in the Atlantic and after years of lobbying by rights and pro-democracy activists to place travel restrictions on President Jammeh, his senior officials and their families.
Congress had long wanted the Obama Administration to prove it is taking action on deporting those that have overstayed their welcome in the North American nation. The U.S. has no resource, geo-political or national interests in The Gambia, making it an easy and soft target to send a message to Congress.
Relations between The Gambia and the U.S. over the past years were further strained with President Yahya Jammeh accusing U.S. authorities of supporting a dissident-led coup and with the U.S. expelling The Gambia from the preferential AGOA trade agreement.
Gambian authorities are being accused of abducting at least two Americans, who are feared dead and a third, ‘unjustly’ jailed for three years. National Security Advisor Susan Rice have called for an investigation into the whereabouts of Alhagie Ceesay and Ebou Jobe and UN Envoy Samantha Power has called for Fanta Darboe’s release.
If The Gambia agrees to issue travel documents, Gambians in the U.S. might see the largest deportation of its community members. Most Gambians in the deportation backlog have never committed a crime. Majority are said to be failed asylum seekers, who claimed to be seeking protection from persecution and repression.
The recent ban of female genital mutilation, passing of a legislation on the practice and the prosecution of two women has jeopardized the asylum cases of many Gambian women, mostly mothers who said their children would be forced to be cut or they would be forced to undergo it a second time themselves if they visit the West African nation.
In The Gambia, female genital cutting is a deeply-rooted practice and activists say the practice has now been pushed underground.
Gambians say many asylum seekers may face prosecution if deported to The Gambia and have asked the U.S. to withhold the deportation attempt but critics of The Gambia’s government are now accusing authorities of “selling the country’s passport” to non-citizens.
The Gambia sold its passport and gave permanent residency to mainland Chinese citizens who wanted to access businesses in Hong Kong. Hong Kong later withdrew The Gambia’s visa waiver.
Many Gambian families rely on families abroad for their basic needs and remittances sent back to mainland Africa’s smallest nation make up to 22 percent of its Gross Domestic Product.
Many Gambians in the deportation backlog are not in detention, meaning the U.S. may have to go find them, which is unlikely. We have so far confirmed that a handful of Gambians are currently under immigration supervision though not in detention.