Taking a softer stance on homosexuality in the country and repatriating failed Gambian asylum seekers from Europe are two most controversial conditions of European Union financial aid to The Gambia, The Torch has learned.
Neven Mimica, the EU commissioner for International Cooperation and development, who signed 75 million euros with President Adama Barrow on Thursday, told journalists that scraping of the anti-gay laws from country’s statute books was part of their dialogue with Barrow.
“It is a human right-based (aid) package… Homosexuality was one of the reasons why the political dialogue and the development cooperation didn’t work in the previous administration… Now we are to look into these issues with the president,” Mimica told journalists.
“The political agenda that he came with was democratic process and democratic changes and whatever change he would make will stem out of this democratic agenda.
“We do hope that this part of aggravated homosexuality will be under discussion or changes here in the legal framework but we are to discuss it again within the article 8 political dialogue.
Gambia has one of the harshest anti-gay laws in Africa, “aggravated homosexuality”, which carries punishments of up to life in prison.
The law, which was part of a criminal code President Yahya Jammeh approved on October 9, 2014, shows that among those who could be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” are “serial offenders” and people living with HIV who are deemed to be gay or lesbian.
Exactly what constitutes “homosexuality” or a “homosexual act” is not defined in Gambian law making Gambia’s criminalization of the act – which already violates international law – even more likely to be used broadly and arbitrarily.
Memica said they will mostly likely start giving Gambia a budget support starting summer this year but the criteria for such is to be set later with the help of EU mission in Gambia, IMF and World Bank.
One of the contentious issues between Banjul and the European Union has been the issue of gay rights.
Barrow, it appears, will not change position as he would suggest to journalists on Thursday when asked if he is ready to take a softer position on gay rights.
“Homosexuality is not an issue in Gambia,” a visibly uncomfortable Barrow said after a brief hesitation during a signing ceremony with EU commissioner Mimica.
Gambia is one of the highest migrant producing countries in Africa and over 13 thousand Gambians, almost half of the population of country’s capital Banjul, between the ages of 14 to 34 have sought asylum in Europe in 2016, EU data has shown.
A country of 1.9 million inhabitants, Gambia is a small stripe of land divided by river into almost two equal halves and the population of its island capital Banjul is about 34,828.
A statistical database shared with this medium has shown that 13,135 Gambians have applied for asylum in EU in 2016, 12,920 of which are first time applicants in the same year.
Memica said they will hold a “migration dialogue” with the Barrow administration which will include repatriation and resettlement of Gambians from Europe.
“Establishing migration dialogue was one of the things that we discussed with the President… As I said earlier today, Gambia needs all its sons and daughters here for its development. We would like to have part of our EDF package with directed channel to the projects that will create more jobs, vocational training or keep people here at home than to encourage them to leave the country,” Memica told journalists.
“But also the Trust Fund projects that are really more specific for root cause of migration will be increased in The Gambia… Within the first 75 million euros package, there are already three Trust Funds. And out of the other 150 million euros, there will be another migration related project.
“We also agreed that this migration dialogue should somehow incorporate the return, re-admission of the Gambian citizens within a comprehensive; we could call it, return packages. We would like to support the voluntary returns of those Gambians that are stranded somewhere on roads to Libya and also Mediterranean because there are many of them and some are on the route in Niger or Libya.”
He said they have in the past given 100 million euros to International Organisation for Migration to assist them to repatriate migrants who are stock in Libya or Niger and want to go back home to their respective countries.
He said the return packages include not just repatriation but also the employment creation projects that will help returnees settle and gain employment in their home country.