By Fatoumatta K Jallow
Gambia Food and Nutrition Association GAFNA, in collaboration with UNHCR, on Tuesday 20th June 2017 commemorated world refugee day. The Gambia is host to about 8,000 refugees fleeing instability in some African countries, particularly within the West Africa sub-region. The theme for this years’ commeration is: ” WE STAND TOGETHER WITH REFUGEES”.
In his welcome remarks, Mr. Yankuba Colley, Mayor of KMC, said every year, millions of people around the world are on the move in search of better life; that some leave their homes to look for work whilst others pursuing educational opportunities or just want to change their environment; but that for many, leaving their homeland is not their choice.
He added that refugees are people who take to the road against their will, because they’ve been chased out of their villages and towns and separated from their families by conflict or persecution, and they are forced to search for their safety and that of their loved ones.
“We recognise the challenges and hardship that refugees are faced with. However, we equally admire their courage to overcome those challenges and hardship,’’ said Mayor Colley of KMC.
He said protecting and assisting refugees is part of our history as a nation, and that as Gambians, we will continue to welcome refugees and further alleviate their sufferings, because doing so reflect our values and tradition as a nation.
Mr. Yusufa J. Gomez, Executive Director of GAFNA, said the commemoration of World Refugee Day, demonstrates the strong bond of partnership and support that exist between UNHCR and other development partners, in the drive to make the refugees in the country, feel at home.
He added that the event, with its befitting theme, “WE STAND TOGETHER WITH REFUGEES, ” is very significant and worth commemorating.
He said this year’s theme reminds both the refugees and the hosts that the world is together with refugees in assisting them to live dignified and decent lives, wherever they exist.
He noted that the majority of these refugees are faced with enormous challenges ranging from acquiring decent livelihoods, good health and social protection.
In conclusion he said GAFNA as a national development NGO has built partnership with UNHCR to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in order to reduce their vulnerability and improve their socio-economic status as they continue to live in the Gambia.
The Commissioner of the Gambia Commission for Refugees (GCR), Hulay Jallow, expressed delight for partaking in the important event adding that the Gambia has over the years accepted refugees in the country.
She said the commission is committed to work with all stakeholders in ensuring that the refugees feel at home and enjoy the fundamental human rights as the rest of the citizens.
Mr. Sekou K. Saho, Head of office UNHCR Banjul, said: ‘‘we live in a world in which uncertainty, economic instability, political upheavals and violence is an everyday occurrence and fear and exclusion will only lead us to barriers, alienation and despair.
He urge everybody to come together to make sure every refugee child gets education, every refugee family has somewhere safe to live and make sure every refugee can work or learn new skills to support their families.
Interior Minister Mai Ahmed Fatty, in his Keynote address said the day reflects the common humanity and that being a refugee is not the choice of any person.
‘‘Refugees are no ordinary migrants. Unlike those who are going to other countries for economic reasons, even if they are refugees, but the class of political refugees we are talking about, are the ones we are celebrating today. People become refugees as a result of political inhospitality. People do not become refugees because they don’t love their countries or love where they are going. Few months ago, hundreds of Gambians left here to seek for refuge. We left because the condition of our country was inhospitable, the circumstance was threatening, our security could no longer be ascertained and our freedom was confiscated, “said the minister.
Mr. Fatty said refugee life is not an easy one and as such, his ministry will work tirelessly to ensure that the lives of refugees are transformed, secured and that they have a sense of belonging that they can make a permanent home for them here.
The Minister reaffirmed his ministry’s commitment to working with United Nations High Commission for Refugees in order to acquire documentation to work and residence to live in.
He added that in the Gambia, the refugee is cherished, loved and respected and that one will find out that government policy makes it easier for them to settle.
He urged the undocumented refugees to use the right channel to acquire citizenship to make their stay in the Gambia fruitful and rewarding because the law is not discriminatory as it is here to protect everyone.
“There is no discrimination here. You can be who you want to be because the opportunities are available in the new Gambia. If you are willing to work hard for it you can be successful in the Gambia,” he said.
But he however warned that those who are into fraud and unlawful acts will be dealt with according to law.