People & Power

Gambia: Back Home

We investigate why some in The Gambia have returned home to discourage others from an attempt at life in Europe.

Desperate for a safer or, in some cases, a more prosperous life, millions of people from the Middle East and Africa have sought refuge in Europe. Sometimes their dreams come true … sometimes disenchantment and hostility drive them home.

In the second of two films on these conflicting experiences (for the first see: Assimilation Nation) People & Power has been to The Gambia in West Africa.

The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest, most impoverished and least developed countries, with many of its 2 million inhabitants heavily reliant on subsistence farming and with a youth unemployment rate of around 40 percent. It is inevitable then that migration to seek work and support families back home has long been a regular way of life.

For decades, remittances have accounted for as much as 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), one of the highest rates in the world of a country’s dependence on funding from its diaspora.

But in recent years, the number of youth leaving the country has soared. Despairing of The Gambia’s political and economic situation (which until 2017 was frozen under the dictatorial regime of now deposed President Yahya Jammeh) many lost hope in the future and began looking for a way out; encouraged by the apparent success of some earlier migrants who had sent money back home and painted a rosy picture of life in Europe on social media.

In 2011 Libya’s civil war opened a new gateway, albeit a highly dangerous one, for human traffic out of North Africa to Europe and tens of thousands of young Gambians attempted the journey. Since then, Gambians have consistently been in the top 10 nationalities attempting to take boats across the Mediterranean.

Tragically many have died in the process. Others who have made it to Europe have struggled in the face of racism, discrimination and increasingly tough EU regulations to deter economic migrants from staying.

Now some of these have returned home – either disillusioned that their dreams of a prosperous new life came to nothing, or, in the worst cases, deeply traumatised by the experience – and they are determined to discourage others from following the same path.