Backward Forces Risk Reducing Sweden’s Aid to Countries like The Gambia
In the shadow of the corona pandemic, the number of people leaving The Gambia for Europe is increasing again. Meanwhile, several rich countries want to reduce their aid to countries like the Gambia. It does not add up. Assistance is needed for young people to see a future in their home countries, the Sweden-based Gambia group writes.
We in the Gambia group, who have been building schools in villages of The Gambia for 40 years, know parents whose sons and now also daughters are suddenly gone through the backway. In addition, during 2015–2020, more than 33,000 Gambians arrived in Europe irregularly, which is a significant proportion of a population of approximately 2.4 million inhabitants.
The difficulties in reaching Europe, rejections, and so-called push-backs, mean that the number of returnees increases. In the Gambia, return is perceived as a failure, and many returners are indebted after the migration. The risks of social exclusion are obvious.
The Gambia group is now seeking funding from the aid agency SIDA, via the aid organization ForumCiv, to support skills development within our local partner organization Gambia Returnees from the Backway Association (GRB). The organization helps returnees return to the community.
Gambian migrants formed GRB in Libyan detention. There they stayed after being stopped on their way to Europe. Now the organization runs agriculture on the north side of the Gambia River and provides returnees with training.
We are hopeful, and we believe that ForumCiv will contribute to a project preparation study, but can we count on long-term project support? Unfortunately, this is uncertain as several rich countries are now cutting aid, citing the costs of the corona pandemic.
The United Kingdom, which has often been a model for development cooperation in Africa, has decided to reduce aid from 0.7 to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI), which will mean that aid organizations will be forced to suspend their activities. It can be as bad with Swedish development aid if the backward-looking forces get what they want.
During the past year, we have seen several proposals in the Riksdag to halve development assistance until 2024. A saving that is proposed to go to cover domestic costs for the corona pandemic.
The Gambia group has a model that works to do something about refugee flows and irregular migration. The model means that the aid is used directly in partnership with local organizations to strengthen the opportunities for people living in poverty to influence their own lives.
We believe that a good life is that young men and women can get jobs in the Gambia. Our partner GRB works to arrange misleading information about getting to Europe and what to expect here.
More young people should understand that you can create your future in the Gambia, a cornerstone of the Gambia groups’ model. However, a 2014 report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) criticizes the Gambia for its aid handling. That is why our partner organizations need support to make demands on their government and the authorities in the Gambia.
After the change of power in 2017, when President Yahya Jammeh was forced out of a military coup, conditions have improved. As a result, the opportunities to slow down irregular migration to Europe have increased. Still, our project support hangs on a fragile thread.
According to the European border and coastguard agency Frontex, attempts to take the back road to Europe have increased again. In April this year alone, a fourfold increase was found compared with April last year.
The migration routes have been reversed so, more and more young Gambians choose the most dangerous route across the Canary Islands. Maybe also via the Spanish enclaves in North Africa.
More people are leaving again, and it shows the desperation young Gambians feel with coronary restrictions, reduced tourism, fewer jobs, and increased poverty.
By keeping Swedish development assistance unchanged, we are showing the way for other wealthy countries to guarantee a level of development assistance. A level that creates development in developing countries allows young people to see a future in their home countries.