(News Release) – It has come to the attention of Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in the Gambia, otherwise known by its
acronym CORDEG and as reported in the international media, that the governments of Malta and The Gambia have signed a Migrant Repatriation Agreement (MRA) by which it is agreed that the government of Malta can repatriate 88 Gambian nationals currently held in various Immigration Removal Centres in Malta, back to the Gambia. This agreement was signed by the Gambian minister responsible for foreign affairs Mr Bala Garba Jahumpa on behalf of the Gambia government and his Maltese counterpart Dr George Vella, at the fringes of the 69th Session of United Nations General Assembly, which concluded recently in New York.
As an umbrella organisation representing several Gambian dissident groups in the Diaspora and working in collaboration with registered Gambian opposition political parties on the ground in the Gambia, CORDEG hastened to state without reservation and with full and credible knowledge of the abysmal human rights situation prevalent in the Gambia at this time, that to return these asylum seekers to the Gambia will expose them to severe government reprisals. The mere fact that these refugees have applied for asylum from the government of Malta, already exposes them to legal prosecution under the country’s criminal Code and also to political persecution by state actors who have been made to believe that Gambian asylum seekers tarnish the “image” and “reputation” of the Gambia by seeking surrogate international protection from their own government. The recent prosecutions of Amadou Sanneh, a prominent opposition figure from the largest opposition party the United Democratic Party (UDP) has shown that asylum related charges carry a 5 years term of imprisonment upon being caught.
CORDEG draws the attention of the Maltese government to the unwavering fact that implementation of this unprecedented agreement, will result at best, in a period of indefinite imprisonment for all the returnees; in prisons and secret detention facilities where torture is rampant and deaths from malnutrition and poor hygiene are recorded everyday; and at worse to an uncertain future, where enforced disappearances and assassinations of government opponents, are commonplace.
In view of the growing number of subjective testimonies from actual victims of state torture who continue to flee persecution from the brutal regime of President Yahya Jammeh and of the preponderance of objective evidence recorded by international organisations such as Amnesty International and government agencies such as the USA Department of State, in its Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practice, it is our firmly held belief that to return these Gambian refugees to the Gambia under the present dire human rights conditions and into the custody of one of the most despotic governments in Africa today, will be a violation of Malta’s signed undertakings under prominent provisions of the Refugee Convention of 1951 and related Protocols and similar human rights Conventions.
It may also not have come to your government’s attention that amongst the coterie of potential returnees are several former members of the Gambian National Army (GNA), who are known Conscientious Objectors and who defected, in order to escape reprisals from the brutal regime of President Yahya Jammeh. CORDEG emphasises that without fail, upon being returned to the Gambia, these unfortunate refugees will be subjected to the same terror and torture, routinely used by state security forces to silence or eliminate dissidents and opponents of the government.
We therefore respectfully urge the Maltese government to stay the implementation of the agreed removal plans, in order for CORDEG and other stakeholders to explore various alternative options to the wholesale repatriation of a highly vulnerable group of innocent migrants who face the real prospect of political persecution and victimisation upon being returned.
We similarly urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the government of Malta, to exercise plenipotentiary, to revoke, for lack of compliance with international human rights law, the Migrant Repatriation Agreement with the Gambia government, since his counterpart and the Gambia government have no intention to honour its signed undertakings to protect the safety and human rights of the potentials returnees.