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AD266: Gambians see sharp decline in emigration, though interest in leaving remains high

Charles Ebere 20 Dec 2018 Gambia
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Key findings
  • More than eight in 10 Gambians (83%) say irregular migration to other countries decreased during the year preceding the survey, including 51% who say it decreased “a lot.”
  • Almost half (44%) of respondents say migration from rural to urban areas within the Gambia has increased.
  • A majority (56%) of Gambians say they have considered emigrating, including 29% who say they have given “a lot” of thought to the idea.
  • Among those who have considered emigrating, one in 10 (11%) say they are taking concrete steps to emigrate, such as seeking a visa, while 66% say they have not made specific plans yet.
  • The most common reasons for considering emigration are to find work (39%) and to escape economic hardship (29%).

Migration is a high-profile issue in the Gambia, especially irregular low-skilled emigration beyond the borders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) (Zanker & Altrogge, 2017). Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year autocratic regime, characterized by poverty and poor governance, triggered a wave of irregular emigration – especially by young Gambians – to Europe, a phenomenon known locally as “the back way” (Embiricos, 2016).

In 2016, nearly 12,000 Gambians arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean, a 36% increase from 2015 (Hunt, 2017). The alarming rate of emigration placed the Gambia among the top five nations in the number of citizens who cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy (International Organization for Migration, 2017) – a remarkable fact considering the country’s population of just 2.1 million.

During the 18 months after Jammeh’s departure in early 2017, 2,674 Gambian migrants trapped in Libya were assisted to return to the Gambia with support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union (Hunt, 2018). The government has also prioritized creating jobs and training opportunities in a bid to reduce unemployment among young people (Hunt, 2017).

Afrobarometer’s maiden national survey in the Gambia reveals that while an overwhelming majority of citizens say that irregular migration has declined in the past year, almost six in 10 citizens have considered emigrating – most often in hopes of finding employment. Almost half of Gambians also say rural-urban migration within the country has increased. A majority of Gambians say they encounter difficulties in crossing international borders to work and trade within the sub-region despite the ECOWAS Protocol of 1979 establishing unimpeded movement of people, goods, and services.

Charles Ebere

Lecturer in sociology and member of the Afrobarometer team for the<br /> Center for Policy, Research and Strategic Studies at the University of the Gambia