Illegal migration to Europe continues to be a major phenomenon gripping the African continent, with thousands of people dying yearly in the Mediterranean sea from that dangerous journey. Massive unemployment, bad governance, corrupt governments, among other vices often drive hopeless youngsters living in the continent to search for greener pastures in Europe.
In the case of The Gambia, hope was restored with the election of President Adama Barrow into office in December of 2016, after he defeated longtime dictator Yahya Jammeh.
Many at the time thought that the famous “back way to Europe” would become a thing of the past, with the advent of the new administration. But that never prevented Gambians from leaving the West African country.
In a joint sting security operation conducted by The Gambian Navy, The Gambia Immigration Department, and Gambia’s Intelligence Agency, the State Intelligence Services, 37 migrants were arrested this past week at the coastal fishing villages of Tanji and Gunjur.
Chief Superintendent Mamanding S Dibba is the spokesman for The Gambia Immigration Department. Dibba explains how the migrants were intercepted by the joint security taskforce.
“We received an information from our counterparts on Wednesday that a group of people are planning to embark on a journey through the high seas to the Canary Islands in Spain. So, once we received that intelligence, we worked on that information leading to the arrest of nine people in Gunjur sometime in the evening and another twenty-eight people were intercepted in Gunjur,” Dibba remarked.
Those arrested included Gambians and non-Gambian nationals. Minors were also arrested.
“We have 37 people in our records, 37 people including women and minors, minors meaning children under the age of 18. Statistics by nationality, we have 25 Gambians altogether, 10 Sierra Leoneans, we had one Senegalese and one Guinean Conakry,” said Spokesman Dibba.
Dibba says the migrants were expecting a boat that was supposed to ferry them to Spain. He adds that they were subsequently arrested and detained. He says the migrants were profiled, countries of origin, gender and other vital information obtained. They were later released on bail.
“So, after all that, they were granted bail to join their respective families. Those who were non-Gambians their diplomatic representatives were invited to know about their presence with us, but as we speak now, all of them have been released but we are trying to probe into the matter of the agents, that means the people, who were trying to smuggle up through the high seas,” Dibba told me in a phone interview on Monday.
“So far, we have three of the agents in our custody. They have named some other people, but those people are still at large, but we have few of them, and they are currently helping investigators with their work,” he added.
The migrants told investigators that they were required by their traffickers to pay money for their trip to the Canary Islands. A boat was expected to arrive from Senegal to pick them up from The Gambian coastal shores.
“What we are able to establish so far is that some of them paid D25,000, some D35,000, like that to D45,000, the lowest they have paid is D25,000 dalasis, and the highest so far was D45,000, but interestingly they told the investigators that some people also paid in the form of material because there is a case wherein somebody paid a motorbike, and added some money on top of that, so, another guy said he paid $900 dollars,” Dibba said.
In its 2020 human trafficking report, the US government ranked The Gambia to tier 2. It says the West African country hasn’t met the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
Some of the arrested migrants have accused Gambia’s immigration agents of entrapment and receiving bribery from their traffickers, an allegation rejected by the immigration spokesman. He notes that in the absence of evidence to substantiate such allegations, he has no reason other than dismissing it as false and unfounded.
Written By Pa Nderry M’Bai
Email: [email protected]