Irregular Migration

Since the beginning of time, people have been on the move: travelling and relocating to new areas of land. Indeed, this is how the human race has spread across the whole world. Emigration, or migration, has always been a way for people to flee poverty and a lack of opportunities and build a new future somewhere else.

In the past, until the Second World War, the Swiss also sought refuge in other countries – Most of them trying to escape the great poverty of the time. Between 1850 and 1914, 400 000 Swiss Nationals left their homeland and emigrated, for the most part to North and South America, where they even founded colonies, which they named after their home towns back home. 

Today, Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world and the destination for many people, from Europe and the whole world, willing to migrate. However, in the Gambia the opposite is true: Many people there dream of emigrating to find a brighter future in Europe or America. Unlike the Swiss migrants of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they cannot relocate to America or Europe legally. Their only choice is to become irregular migrants. Irregular migration is when people enter a country either illegally or without valid documents. It also applies to those who apply for refugee status, despite not being entitled to get asylum.

The number of people leaving The Gambia is increasing. Although the country had more net immigration until the 1990s,  this trend has reversed. In 2010 the net emigration was 13 000 (World Bank).

This increase is not easy to define, as it can be put down to many different reasons. Since the 1960s, the country has noted a steady stream of immigrants to the mostly urban, coastal region of St. Mary Kombo. While in 1990, only 38% of the total population lived in the area, in 2006 the proportion rose to 55%. This migration can be put down to economic factors made worse by climate change, which is continually making it harder for farmers to make a living. The flourishing, international (beach) tourist trade on the beautiful coast of The Gambia, on one hand, creates jobs for Gambians, but, on the other hand, confronts Gambians with the high living standards and wealth that we enjoy in the West . This, together with the poor living conditions, high unemployment, and the resulting lack of opportunities for young people, leads to their natural desire to emigrate to Europe.

Gambians very often wish to emigrate. Many young men fantasise, talk and daydream about the journey to Europe or North America. In fact, they often spend most of their time on the subject, spending long evenings wishfully planning their journey. It is impossible to say the exact number of west Africans that leave their home countries year after year. But according to the World Bank 3.7% of all Gambians live outside of Gambia – about 56 762 people. It was estimated that in 2006 58 million USD flowed back into The Gambia from abroad, making the economic significance of these emigrants very clear.

It is mostly young men who decide to go to Europe. This not only means the loss of a valuable portion of the workforce, but also creates a big challenge for the whole of society in The Gambia. The women’s workload increases when the men are absent. On top of their already strenuous duties, doing the heavy tasks in the household and taking care of the children, they also have to take over the tasks traditionally done by the male head of the family. The children have to grow up without their fathers, and learn from early on, that money comes from Europe. As long as this endless cycle is not broken, these Gambians will always be under pressure to get a “Ticket to Europe”.