Migration

The Gambia represents a country of origin, transit and destination for increasing numbers of domestic and international migrants.  In recent years Gambians have emigrated at a higher rate per capita than every other nation in Africa, and since January 2017, over 3,500 migrants have returned to The Gambia, primarily from Libya and other countries in Africa, with an estimated 4,000 Gambians still stranded in Libya according to data collected by IOM.

The Gambia represents a country of origin, transit and destination for increasing numbers of domestic and international migrants.  In recent years Gambians have emigrated at a higher rate per capita than every other nation in Africa, and since January 2017, over 3,500 migrants have returned to The Gambia, primarily from Libya and other countries in Africa, with an estimated 4,000 Gambians still stranded in Libya according to data collected by IOM. Most migrants (and returnees) are young males – approximately 97% are male and 90% are youth within the ages of 18-35. Most returnees are single (approximately 75%), have migrated for economic reasons (86%), and have secondary education or lower (98%). Along the Central Mediterranean route, migrants from Gambia have one of the highest predicted probabilities to report having been subject to human trafficking (90-92%), exploitation or abuse (IOM, 2017:35), and are therefore more likely to return to The Gambia after being exposed to life threatening events such as violence, abuse and exploitation along their migration route.

Perhaps the single most significant of challenges posed to the nation today in terms of youth is the question of ‘backway’ returnees whose out-flow and return implicate different types of social and economic pressures on the stability of The Gambia’s transition. This mass influx of returning migrants is a destabilizing factor in a country lacking basic services and facing chronic high unemployment rates. Without immediate action, returnees are often left to linger without opportunities or meaningful connections, or means for participation, and find themselves in a vicious cycle, left idle, unemployed and/or increasingly inclined to participate in other more nefarious activities. There are numerous barriers with important implications for peacebuilding that prevent returnees from reintegrating into communities effectively.

Many returnees are in especially dire and vulnerable economic and psychosocial situations upon return (compared to the non-migrant population) due often to having made significant investments in their migration (e.g. they are in large amounts of debt or have sold assets or land to fund their migration), which have usually not yielded the returns expected, and have also gone through challenging, difficult, demeaning, traumatic and even exploitative or abusive situations as part of their migratory journey. Returnees report lower rates of employment after their return than before migration, and IOM has observed a strong tendency amongst returnees to become quickly aggressive and prone to violence if they do not have access to economic reintegration assistance. Although quantitative data on rates of violence or conflict amongst returnees in The Gambia is not available, anecdotal evidence and direct observations confirm that violent and aggressive behavior is common amongst returnees. According to IOM data (2018), 71% of returnees feel stressed upon return. Psychosocial and mental health issues are more prevalent among migrants compared with the general population due to these stresses, as well as the often traumatic and/or abusive experiences faced by migrants.