In April, the first plane carrying Gambian migrants heading to Europe arrived in The Gambia. Filled with youths, they have made a U-turn, cutting short their perilous journey to reach Europe.
Since then a there was a surge in such returns. The country’s former autocratic ruler, Yahya Jammeh has been sent packing to Equatorial Guinea and there is a new hope for young Gambians.
The country’s new leader President Adama Barrow was sworn-in and his return to The Gambia from hiding in Senegal came with it unfreezing of EU funding, which immediately gave the country more than $85 million to help create jobs.
Three other planes had migrants return, some voluntarily from Europe and Libya. And in Europe, more than 13,000 Gambians have applied for asylum in Europe and at least three-quarter of them were all rejected.
Gambians have been kidnapped and held in deplorable camps run by militiamen in Libya, where they are subjected to inhumane treatment. Most of the returnees were those rescued from the detention centers.
Even during Jammeh’s reign, Gambians were considered economic migrants. The country for decades was diplomatically isolated sparking both political and economic turmoil.
With the country’s new democratic status, the asylum applications of a hopeful few will be overturned, because the dictator is defeated and exiled. They no longer face persecution, unfair prosecution or the threat of torture and death.
President Adama Barrow has pledged a return to not just democratic rule but vowed the rule of law and human rights will be upheld. He would turn the page on Jammeh’s often cruel and dysfunctional 22-year rule, which was marked by the detention and torture of opponents.
Thousands of ordinary Gambians have dropped their bags to remain home and work. Now joined by 1,300 others, the EU has given The Gambia at least $15 million to help the country’s young people remain home, start businesses and help the New Gambia thrive.
But there is growing frustration among young people, most of them belonging to the proportion of the country’s most disadvantaged communities.
The $15 million EU grant targets young people and there is an additional package for voluntary returnees. But these young people are unaware of these grants and the few that are, do not how the process to apply or caught in bureaucratic red tapes.
Rural Gambia is hardest hit by poverty and in some villages, no young person is seen because they have all used the so-called backway to Europe.
In some villages, entire families have lost loved ones, who died in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe, only clinching to the hope of untieing their families from the bondage of poverty.
Gambia’s economy has improved and the IMF has projected a three percent growth. The prices of flour, fuel and some major commodities have been lowered but the cost of living remains high. The energy crisis is starving the country of needed businesses but the new government hopes that will be a tale in two years.