Most Gambians at home and abroad celebrated a change of regime, following the defeat of former President Jammeh in the December 2016 presidential election.
A change described by activists from ‘autocratic dictatorship, to the birth of democracy’.
However, it is not all ‘cool and dandy’ for most Gambian asylum seekers in Europe and America, amid deportation fears for failed asylum seekers and those granted ‘temporary’ leave to remain.
The policy document announced by the Conservatives led government in 2015 says:
“We’ll introduce strengthened ‘safe return reviews’ – so when a refugee’s temporary stay of protection in the UK comes to an end, or if there is a clear improvement in the conditions of their own country, we will review their need for protection. If their reason for asylum no longer stands and it is now safe for them to return, we will seek to return them to their home country rather than offer settlement here in Britain”
The Guardian reported that the Home Office Refugee Leave policy document was updated on 9 March when “a new section” was “included on settlement and the need for a safe return review when considering settlement applications from those granted refugee status”.
The Home Office has also updated its ‘country policy information note’ on 9 March about the Gambia for guidance used by UK Visas and Immigration to make decisions in asylum and human rights applications.
The updated policy summary on the Gambia has pointed out the unlikeliness of ‘political persecution’ as a ground of asylum claim.
“The new government, led by President Adama Barrow, has made respect for human rights of all and the rule of law central pillars for the ‘new Gambia’. These have begun to be realised immediately, e.g. by releasing political prisoners, commencing reforms of the security services, and other announcements.
“Those fearing former President Jammeh’s regime are unlikely to be at risk or in need of international protection.
“Those members of former President Jammeh’s regime fearing indictment/prosecution are likely to fear prosecution, not persecution. It is not reasonably likely that the person would be flagrantly denied a fair trial or that any punishment resulting from any prosecution would be discriminatory or disproportionately applied. The onus will be on the person to show otherwise.
“Internal relocation is unlikely to be necessary for those fearing former President Jammeh’s regime. Where there is a risk of societal retribution, internal relocation is likely to be reasonable, but decision makers must consider the individual circumstances of the person.
“Internal relocation is unlikely to be an option for supporters of former President Jammeh who have a well-founded fear of persecution from the new government or high profile members of former President Jammeh’s regime fearing indictment/prosecution.
“Cases are likely to be certifiable as ‘clearly unfounded’”
An immigration advisory and commentary website Free Movement says “any refugees refused settlement under the new policy will in theory face detention and removal, although with the numbers of enforced removals and voluntary departures falling year on year this seems unlikely in practice. More likely they will be inducted by the Home Office into the twilight world of the “hostile environment”, unable to work, rent accommodation, drive, maintain a bank account and more.”
Under the previous policy, refugees are normally granted automatic settlement in the UK at the completion of their five year probationary period known as ‘limited leave to remain’, except for those refugees who were involved in criminal activities.
The new policy says:
“All those who apply for settlement protection after completing the appropriate probationary period of limited leave will be subject to a safe return review with reference to the country situation at the date the application is considered. Those who still need protection at that point will normally qualify for settlement. Caseworkers must refer to the Settlement Protection instruction for more detailed guidance on considering such applications.”
The Home Office says, “During former President Jammeh’s regime, there was evidence of human rights violations, including suppression of freedom of speech; detention of political opponents; mistreatment, including torture, of detainees; and extrajudicial killings.”
On this basis, many Gambian political activists, journalists and victims of the Jammeh regime were granted protection in the UK.