GUNJUR - Coastal Town Bleeds from Impact of Illegal Migration
November 8, 2023 marked two years since the disappearance of a boat load of about 200 would-be migrants, largely from Gunjur, on The Gambia’s sea coast.
On Wednesday evening, November 8th 2023, a town-wide public information campaign, using a loudspeaker, served as a reminder about the incident while at the same time admonishing the young on the dangers of illegal migration.
Perhaps the worst affected town in the country, Gunjur continues to be drained of hundreds of youth annually due to illegal migration, with a significant number perishing in the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert. As if the shock of the 2021 disappearance of scores of their fellow youngsters wasn’t traumatizing enough, a record number of people (women, men, and even children) embark on the perilous journey from Gunjur and Kartong to the Canary Islands. This is in addition to the many who travel by land through Senegal, Mali, Niger, Libya, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as they seek greener pastures in Europe.
A major impact of the illegal migration is the depletion of the youth workforce in the community. From tailors, taxi drivers, construction workers, students, farmers, fishermen, and even teachers - it’s apparent the utopian perception of migration to Europe combined with the lack of economic opportunities in The Gambia are breaking the backbone of Gunjur.
The demise of large numbers of mostly young people at sea has taken both economic and emotional tolls on those left behind. From 2021 to date, scores of people in Gunjur alone died while trying to reach Europe by sea. The numbers continue to increase with serious alarm. Within the last 4 weeks alone, no less than 50 people from Gunjur and Kartong died at sea or shortly after making it to their destinations.
Incidentally, those who survived the trips by sea emphasized the toll it takes on them mentally - from hallucinations to insanity. Some spoke of seeing white horses, strange people, and even witches at sea. There had been many cases of individuals jumping overboard after mental breakdowns. And the number of migrants with serious mental problems wandering the streets of European cities must be a matter of concern.
Religious leaders have played their roles in praying for those who embark on the journey, while discouraging others from following the dangerous path. This has been especially evident at Friday Prayers. Despite some blowback and disparaging remarks against them, some community activists and social media influencers in Gunjur have intensified efforts to stem the tide of illegal migration.
A holistic approach is required to stop our communities from bleeding profusely and ending this incalculable loss. Government and the private sector must do more to create well-paying jobs especially for the youths. Education and skills training must be relevant and prioritized.
The developed countries must relax visa rules and open more doors for legal migration while at the same time promoting sustainable development and investment opportunities in The Gambia. Gambians in the diaspora must help convey realistic pictures of life, opportunities and challenges in the West. Would-be migrants must be told that reaching Europe will not automatically transform their lives for the better. It can take decades for most migrants to settle and transform their lives and that of their families. Finally, stiff penalties should be imposed on human trafficking networks.
A balanced approach involving these and other elements must be taken to stem the tide of illegal migration and save lives and communities.