On a recent visit to Marlborough’s link community of Gunjur, I asked the question of friends there “do you know of people from Gunjur who have taken “the back way” (as they call it) to Europe?” “Oh yes!” and the figure varied from 20-30 from a population of approximately 25,000.
“What proportion of these people are, what we describe as, economic migrants as opposed to people fleeing from an oppressive regime – recognising of course that the two are related?”
The Gambia, with its poor human rights record receives no aid from the Department for International Development and funding from the EU has been stopped in response to the expulsion of the EU representative to The Gambia following the EU’s opposition to statements regarding the iniquity of homosexuality by the President. So the ordinary people of the country suffer at the hands of the regime and the international community.
“Over 90% would be economic migrants and 100% would be men, not women”.
Over the past 30 years the focus of international development by Governments, UN agencies and International non-Governmental Organisations (Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children etc.) has tended to be on women’s development. “Women are the answer to Africa’s poverty! They are the ‘backbone of Africa’. They are considered to be second class citizens – we must educate and empower women!”
Fine! And nobody would disagree with that. But hold on a minute. Are we not expecting long- standing deeply traditional communities to adopt principles of gender equality that it has taken us many generations to adopt? After all it was only in 1928 that all British women over the age of 21 were given the vote and the women’s liberation movement only began in the 1960s.
Have we not forgotten that men likewise have a vital role to play? In The Gambia it is estimated that only 20-30% of young men are in employment five years after leaving school. It can’t be either women or men. It has to be both/and.
And while we’re on the subject of migrants, where’s the compassion? Let us not forget that these are extraordinary and highly exceptional people.
Would I, as a result of conflict, oppression or abject poverty be prepared to uproot myself from my community, my family and friends, my language and customs with nothing, no support and only enough money to pay the traffickers but no more, and take a highly dangerous route overland and/or by sea to a totally uncertain and possibly illegal future? I think not.
Almost by definition refugees and asylum seekers will be exceptional people. You only have to think of those that you know personally. And let’s not forget that without the immigrants to this country every service within our country (NHS, Social Services, transport) would collapse.