By: Kebba AF Touray
The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Public Petitions, last week engaged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide them with updates on a petition letter addressed to the said Committee, from some stranded Gambians in the United Arab Emirate (UAE).
The reported stranded Gambians who at the time of COVID-19 pandemic requested for their repatriation to the country, involved sixty Gambians which include sixteen students.
The Chairperson of the said Committee Hon. Suwaibou Touray, informed officials of the Ministry that session was meant for them to provide update on the petition letter received from the stranded Gambians in UAE.
Reading the said letter to the Officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Hon. Touray told them that it was an appeal from the said Gambians for the urgent intervention of the National Assembly through the Petitions committee, for their repatriation because they have been struggling to communicate and access the urgently needed and emergency support from the Ministry in the Gambia and the Gambia Embassy in Dubai, to no avail.
“We have been sitting for almost four months now and we do not have any work or means to get income to buy food or get housing etc., leaving some of us at the mercy of others. We are in very difficult and frustrating situation and all that we want now is to go back to the Gambia, but the airports are closed,” Hon. Touray said while reading the letter; That some of them said they are confronted with a change of status on their visas and due to their joblessness, it is expensive for them; That either they exit the country or change the status of their visas and stay, the fee for the latter they do not have; That according to the Gambians in their letter, failure to do either of the above, attracts a daily fine of D350; That the Gambians indicated in their letter that they have been struggling to get in touch with the Embassy in UAE, but this has been a big challenge for them because the Gambian Embassy in the UAE does not even have a website where they can be contacted.
“When we eventually made contact some three months ago now, they asked us to submit a list of Gambians who were willing to return home. We sent a list of over sixty people including sixteen students. We have also sent them an official on 10th June 2020 and received a call confirming receipt,” Hon. Touray quoted the Gambians from the letter sent to the Committee.
According to Hon. Touray, the stranded Gambians indicated that they have sent a letter to the Ministry in the Gambia on June 8th and equally sought help, but that up to date, they never received an official response from the Ministry.
“We call on the National Assembly to exercise its oversight powers to assess if at all the Foreign Affairs Ministry is functioning, and provide us with the urgently needed emergency service to us as Gambians abroad,” he said while reading the letter from the stranded Gambians in UAE. He said the stranded Gambia expressed their awareness that the Finance Ministry has allocated a significant amount of money to Gambia’s Foreign Affairs to immediately address the emergency situation of Gambian’s abroad, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reacting to the letter, Ambassador Lang Yabou, explained to the committee that the said petition must have been overtaken by events, saying the letter they received was about the plight of Gambians living in UAE, and said the letter read by the Honourable Member, was in 2020 when the world was in lockdown.
“What you just read was not brought to our attention,” he told members of the Committee.
At this juncture, Committee Chairperson Hon. Suwaibu Touray interjected and clarified to him that the letters were the same, and said the issue happened at a critical time when the world was battling with COVID-19 restrictions and Gambians everywhere were in that critical situation, and were seeing their compatriots in other countries being assisted by their governments to the extent that even the government of the UAE was willing to offer help.
“Are you aware of any action that was taken by the Ministry or Embassy in the UAE towards this particular complaint?” asked the Ministry Officials.
Ambassador Yabou responded in the positive and said “the Embassy was constantly in touched with them”, and said when one looks at the budget of the Ministry, it is huge but in reality it is not, when it is put into context. He explained that the Ministry as well as other members and diplomatic staff, established regular contact with Gambians throughout the world during the pandemic period; That there were instances when they reached out to families at home, adding that at the time, many places were closed and most of the missions were physically sshut down.
He said unlike the Gambia, nationals of other countries will register with their Embassies before an emergency happens, but said Gambians do the contrary with their Embassies and will visit only when they have an emergency.
Hon. Sulayman Saho asked Foreign Ministry Officials if they have repatriated any batch of Gambians during the period either as individuals or groups, and to this, Ambassador Yabou reponded to in the negative.
Hon. Saho further asked if the Ministry had negotiated or collaborated with other countries to repatriate Gambian citizens, but Musa Camara, Director Diaspora and Migration at the Ministry, responded that at that time, he was not at the Foreign Ministry, and Ambassador Yabou also replied that he can neither say yes or no to the question because he was not privy to the information.