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.