Below is a Foroyaa interview with the Gambia Immigration Department Public Relations Officer, Superintendent Ensa Jawara on the recent mass arrests made in Banjul of alleged child traffickers.
The immigration department recently rounded up children that were about to be victims of human trafficking. Could you explain how it happened?
Our officers were on normal patrol around 5am in the morning, when upon an information, they raided an abandoned house where they found a lot of children. Those within the ages of 11 to 17 were 63, all of them are Senegalese. Those within the ages of 14 to 20 were 14 in number, all of them Senegalese. And two of them are Gambians of 20 and 22 years of age. The total number is 79, of which 63 are underage.
When our officers arrested them, investigated the matter and have been reliably informed that these children were employed by certain people. So far our officers were able to arrest 18 of them - 17 Gambians and one Senegalese, including 15 female and 3 male. They are suspected to be employers of these children.
Where were they arrested?
They were arrested in Banjul
Where did they come from in Senegal?
We did establish that they are from a village in Senegal. And according to what we gathered, children from that village are used to these type of things. But it's very inhumane; you cannot exploit these children. It's very disheartening when you see where these people place cartons and lie down. The place is so nasty that you cannot stand there for more than 30 minutes.
How did they get here?
Actually, they were saying they that were living here for long. Some claimed that they came with their parents and were eventually left here alone. But we are investigating to establish that fact.
Did their parents leave them to return to Senegal?
Some of them are saying so. As I told you, we are still investigating to have more facts.
What is the role of the Immigration Child Welfare Unit in this?
Since these children were apprehended, the Immigration Child Welfare Unit was put in the picture, together with the Social Welfare Department, to work with some of our officers on the case. They advised us that the underage be transferred to the Social Welfare shelter in Bakoteh. The documentation is to be done in Bakoteh after which these children will be integrated back to their communities.
As I told you, investigations are ongoing.
They were granted bail since the first day and are reporting on a daily basis.
Just a normal bail proceeding.
Is the Senegalese Embassy in the picture?
We work hand in hand with other state authorities. There are procedures we follow. So any relevant authority is put in the picture.
Checks and balance to prevent recurrence?
We will continue to do sensitization and before re-integration, we always advise victims to be careful not to allow people to abuse them.
When to integrate - wait till suspects are charged in court?
These are underage; we are treating them as victims. They have a little role to play in this because they don't know left and right. So we are dealing with the employers directly in this. From there, we will seek for legal advice.
Your border guards have a role to play in this. Have you sent word to them to indicate that minors should not be allowed to enter into the country without proper orientation or accompanied by an adult?
Our officers are very professional. Definitely, the security has a role. By extension, the general public does have a role by passing information to security officers anytime they come across something that is abnormal. Let the public also understand that we have porous borders which are not recognised as entry points. The general public should therefore report to the security anybody that they are not satisfied with. It is as well the duty of the landlord to escort aliens to the Immigration or alkalo in order to do proper documentation - put them in registers so as to be able to track them when needed.
Sensitisation in the national languages?
The public relations department of Gambia Immigration - we have done series of programmes in local languages. We go on the TV and radio on a series of sensitisation programmes. Less than a fortnight ago, I was on a programme on GRTS, which was done in local languages. You can see how committed the office is with regards to sending out information to the public.
We thank all stakeholders in the due execution of their duties in this country. We especially thank the general public and we still appeal to them to redouble them efforts by sharing information with the immigration or other security apparatus. We thank everybody and looking forward to more support in 2013.