EXPLAINER: Understanding Return Procedures for Migrants

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A screengrab of a photo from IOM Gambia website explaining its return and reintegration programme for migrants

By Malick Nyang

Also known as forced migration or returned migration, deportation is of two types, according to the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography.  On one hand, it involves an involuntary return that the migrant does not accept.  It also involves, on the other hand, assisted return which is the involuntary return that the migrant has accepted.

In case of an involuntary return that the migrant does not accept, coercion may be explicitly involved, where migrants may be apprehended by law enforcement officers, and imprisoned before being transported across international borders to their country of origin.

Imprisonment or detention in this case happens under certain conditions; for instance, if there exist fear that the migrant concerned may abscond.

With assisted returns, coercion is implicit and not physical, in that there are no legal options left to the migrant, other than to leave the country he or she is in. In both instances, return migration here may be described as forced.

Generally, return occurs for violating an immigration law such as if the foreign national entered the country without proper authorization, violated the terms of their visa, stayed in the country beyond the period of time that they were authorized to remain in the country.

However, a criminal offense can also be grounds for deportation, although the number of criminal-related basis for deportation has declined dramatically in countries like the US, according to Trac Immigration.

Like other countries, The Gambian laws also allow national authorities to return people who do not have the legal right to reside in the country.

This is clearly stated in Section 16 of the Immigration Act of The Gambia: “If a person other than a person possessing special immigration status is convicted by any court of an offense against any law for which the court has powers to impose imprisonment without the option of a fine that court or any court superior to it so certify that conviction and recommend such a person for deportation in the form prescribed.”

However, the Minister is the competent person to give deportation orders and to accept deportation a recommendation given by the court.

The Gambia has been a country of destination for migrants from the West African sub-region for decades.  The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) estimates that over 10% of the population of the country were non-Gambians, as of 2019.

However, The Gambia has, in the past 20 years, also become a significant country of origin for migrants and refugees traveling to Europe and North America, according to a report titled ‘Civil Society Input to EU-Africa Cooperation on Migration: The Case of The Gambia’ authored by Gibril Faal of the London School of Economics (LSE).

Who is responsible for return?

Return is entirely handled by the states and national governments.  In most countries, the process is coordinated by the Immigration Department Deportation under the jurisdiction of that county’s laws.

However, states can work with international organization such as IOM considering its mandate on Migration to provide specific protection assistance. IOM’s constitution does not allow it to get involved in the movement but to provide arrival assistance as well as reintegration when feasible and requested. In the Gambia, it’s been the case until November 2022 and the reintegration assistance is now handled by CARITAS.  

“Forced return or deportation is a matter of state affairs.  As such, IOM is not involved in organizing or facilitating any return movements that are not voluntary in nature,” IOM.

Generally, IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems, and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.

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