By Yankuba Jallow
Honourable Ousman Sillah, the National Assembly Member for Banjul North has called on the executive arm of the Gambia Government to visit Europe in order to see first-hand the deplorable conditions in which some Gambians in the Diaspora are living.
The Banjul North lawmaker said the government should not sit by and be oblivious to the difficulties being faced by young Gambians in the Diaspora.
“I would urge the government of the Gambia to undertake a tour of Europe and then to engage European governments on the issue of Gambian migrants,” said Hon. Sillah.
He said this while contributing to the adjournment debate during the fourth ordinary session of the National Assembly in the 2018 legislative year.
“I have decided to dedicate the best part of my intervention on the Gambians in the Diaspora and the young Gambians who are on this irregular migration to Europe,” Sillah said.
Continuing his contribution, he said “Honourable Speaker, I undertook a seven-nation tour within a span of 26-27 days to the extended constituency of Gambians who are in the Diaspora. I did this in fulfilment of my representative role and also advocacy role as an elected representative. I am responsible for The Gambians both in the country and outside The Gambia. I did this out of my own expense and some Gambians supported me. I have been to seven countries and I would also advise the government, those in the executive, to also undertake a similar mission.”
He said the situation of many young Gambians in Europe is really disheartening and deplorable.
Honourable Sillah said a lot of Gambians who had gone to Europe through irregular migration or ‘backway’ route to do not have legal documentation to legitimize their stay there and thus leaving many of them languish in the streets of Europe without shelter above their heads, food and proper heavy clothing to protect them from the harsh winter weather. He said he had seen and spoken to these young Gambian migrants during his visit to the Central Train Station in the Italian city of Milan where some of them stayed and sleep outside in the open.
He said the honourable consular of the Gambia in Italy told him that there are 50,000 Gambians in Italy who are recorded out of whom it is only 11,000 who are with papers.
“Can you imagine, 39,000 Gambians are living in Italy without papers and are languishing in the streets. I visited Milan at a train Station and found 50 young Gambians there both boys and girls. They don’t have a place to sleep; no shelter above them. Some of them sleep outside. Some of them were hungry, tired and dirty. I also saw some young Gambians out in the open in Barcelona,” Sillah explained.
The Banjul North deputy said after having seen this situation, he decided to take the matter up with officials and representatives of Italian NGOs, civil society and government.
“I convened a meeting with NGOs engaged in migration and humanitarian work as well as others who are friends of the Gambia to tell them the situation of these young Gambians and what ought to be done to help them,” he said.
Hon. Sillah added “My position was that they cannot deport them just like that. I told them that the primary responsibility of these young people is the Gambia government, including myself as an elected Member of the National Assembly, by creating jobs. We must create the conditions for them so that they will stay in the Gambia and find work to do in order to earn income for their livelihood. As you know the Gambia is not poor as it has all the resources needed and only requires a leadership that is focused, committed, honest and ready to sacrifice.
I told them if they really care about The Gambia, if they don’t want the Gambia to turn into chaos, they should ensure that those who are already there are not deported forcefully. I asked them to try and create the conditions for them and to train them to acquire skills and from there create packages for them before bringing them back. I also told them to engage our African governments to ensure that those who have not left yet have something to rely on to keep them home,” he said.
Hon Sillah insisted that the Gambia government must provide for its population. “A fisheries Agreement was brought before us but this was an opportunity for the government to have utilized to create employment for young people. Let us invest in young people. Let us exploit the resources that we have here. We must not continue being dependent,” he added.
He also revealed that following his return from European tour, he had started making follow ups with the relevant government officials and institutions, including cabinet ministers, to share with them the outcome and what he believes is the way forward.
He said he had visited the ministry of foreign affairs and even sent a formal letter requesting for an audience with the minister which is yet to materialise.
The Banjul North NAM said some European countries including Scandinavia have a lot of Gambians who are sending money through remittances and contributing so much in supporting their families back home, adding that as such there is need to have a diplomatic representation in those places. He said he has always been arguing for the scaling down of the numerous diplomatic missions of the Gambia around the world, but added that there is need to close half of them and open one in Scandinavia.
On the political front, he said Gambians in the Diaspora should be enfranchised or allowed to vote as it is their right to participate in presidential elections. He said this is one of the numerous demands being made by the Diaspora during his tour.
Another issue which the Diaspora Gambians have also been complaining about is lack of timely access or even access to national documents such as passport, etc. He said some of them complain about the difficulties or delays experienced when renewing their passports when they expire.
On the approved budget for 2019, Hon. Sillah said it is now passed, but added that he had stated his position during the debate on it. “I don’t think this budget is going to address the issues of poverty. In terms of helping those who are below the poverty line, including the farmers and the young people, who need gainful employment. The Minister of Finance told us that the banking sector has a lot of money. The government should really think about ensuring that this liquidity in the banking sector helps people to access finance. There are so many approaches that the government can undertake but you cannot talk about liquidity when those who need finance don’t actually have access to finance. I don’t know what the government is going to do with this liquidity but definitely, this liquidity should translate into economic activity so that those who need financing can have access to funds such as those in the informal sector and those doing business. We are talking about a deficit of D3.4 billion and according to the Minister the government is going to resort to borrowing but the government should make sure that those who need the funds have access to it. Operators in business should really benefit from it.”
On the recently passed supplementary appropriation bill, Hon. Sillah said “I rejected the Appropriation Bill, not on a partisan basis. I don’t hold anything personal against the Minister of Finance and or the president but this decision was made on the basis of my best judgment. I relied on Section 153 and 154. I didn’t vote for or against it and I did not abstain either. I just did not recognise the process and would not participate in the process to legitimise it. This was based on law and the best interest of the people and my conscience.”
In his response to some of the issues raised by Hon. Sillah on the outcome of his European mission, Hon. Mamadou Tangara, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Gambians Abroad, said he was following the Banjul North NAMs tour of Europe and applauded him for undertaking such an initiative.
Minister Tangara said he was not aware of the request made by the Hon. Sillah for an audience with him but added that he was looking forward to meeting with the lawmaker to discuss matters concerning his ministry.
The Foreign Minister welcomed the proposals being made by the Banjul North NAM regarding Gambian migrants, adding that as diplomats they are not at liberty to take certain positions which parliamentarians are better placed to articulate.
On the call for the closing down of some diplomatic missions, Dr. Tangara said in the world of diplomacy the strength of country is sometimes determined by the number of embassies/missions it is operating. He, however, agreed that there is need for the closure of some missions and the downsizing of the diplomats in others.
The Foreign Minister said he agreed with the Banjul North NAM for the opening of an embassy in one of the Scandinavian countries and that his ministry is considering it.
For his part, Hon. Ousainou Darboe, Vice President and Minister of Women’s Affairs, said he is congratulating Hon. Sillah for his initiative to tour some European countries to meet with Gambians in the diaspora. He said the government is very much concerned with the issues of Gambian migrants and have been engaging some European countries on the issue.