Research Paper

The Political Economy of Migration Governance in the Gambia

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Introduction

Migration is an important and contested societal issue in the Gambia, reflected in national politics. First and foremost, irregular migration is highly politically volatile. Many Gambians have left the country in the last decade, mainly in search of employment and learning opportunities in Europe. Many continue to do so, even after the political change. With migration towards Europe and staying there becoming increasingly difficult, the return of irregular migrants has become inevitable. However, returning too many too quickly will overburden the country’s struggling government, risking its political stability. Secondly, diaspora migration is increasingly becoming a central policy field. Through direct diaspora engagement in policies, their economic and political influence is set to continue increasing. The government should however be attentive to the various interests of different migrant groups, which is particularly difficult due to the politicized nature of irregular migration.

This, thirdly, relates to the uncertain legal status of the many Gambian asylum seekers abroad that have only limited chances of success. The primary reason for political asylum has become obsolete with the regime change. However, not all reasons for asylum are bygone, making a case-by-case review of asylum applications necessary to ensure conformity with international norms on refugee protection.

Fourthly, the Gambia has one of the highest immigration rates in West Africa, but this remains a politically relatively neutral topic, in all likelihood due to the ECOWAS freedom of movement protocols. Yet, the government could more actively support regional mobility, e.g. by streamlining the bureaucratic governance for immigrants, or by counteracting harassment at its borders.

Finally, concerning displaced people in the Gambia, progressive refugee protection laws and practices exist, including the right to work and opportunities for self-settlement. The protection of refugees is, however, not prioritized by the new government, probably due to the fact that the refugee population has greatly reduced in the last years.