Gambian Schengen visa applicants have voiced concerns over the prolonged period of visa processing at EU embassies.
The Point has learned that short-term visa applicants from The Gambia now have to wait for almost 50 days to receive their travel documents from European embassies like Germany.
The processing of visa documents from the German Embassy in Senegal which usually took from two to three weeks at most for Gambians now lingers for several more weeks.
One Gambian visa applicant, who spoke anonymously expressed displeasure at the manner in which Gambians are being treated at certain European embassies, saying they struggle all the way to Senegal for their visa applications only to be made to wait for prolonged periods to receive their documents.
He, like few others we spoke to, said he applied for a short-term Schengen visa at the German embassy in Dakar. However, according to him; it was not made clear to him that he would have to wait for 45 days or more to receive his documents in the Gambia.
"I waited for a long time without any news of my visa documents arriving or any calls. It was at that time I visited the German representative office in Bijilo where I was informed that it took 45 days of processing and additional days for the sent package to be received in The Gambia," he said.
"And even after the 45 days, I still did not receive my travel documents, so I had to go back to Dakar and that is how I missed my travel dates and like other fellow applicants I met there who were facing similar difficulties with this 45 days issuing of documents," the source further explained.
"We, the Gambian sons and daughters are bearing the brunt of having to travel all the way to Senegal to apply for almost all kinds of Schengen visas, it would have been better if these embassies were in Gambia as a whole country," he lamented.
He called on the Gambian authorities to find common grounds with the EU countries to ease visa processing for Gambians, adding that for now "young Gambians would appreciate any efforts by the Barrow government to negotiate an easier process of our visas without these difficult conditions in place."
Another Gambian visa applicant under the pseudonym of John, said he had to wait for more than six weeks before he could get his documents from the German embassy.
"I had to send them several emails to enquire about my documents because it took so long. I thought I was going to miss my travel date because I had received my documents from the embassy just a week before I was supposed to travel."
When our reporter visited the German consular office in Bijilo, it was confirmed that it now took 45 days for processing and at least five additional days for Gambians to receive their documents from the German embassy in Senegal.
Schengen is the common visa approval for foreign travellers to almost 26 European countries in the European Union.
It would be recalled that the EU council implemented the decision (EU) 2021/1781 of 7 October 2021 on the suspension of certain provisions of the Visa Code (EC) No 810/2009, in light of the 'reported' unwillingness of the Gambian authorities to fully cooperate on repatriation of nationals from Europe.
According to the provisions of the Articles on the Visa Code (EU) 2021/1781 with respect to The Gambia:
suspension of the general 15 calendar days processing period referred to in Article 23(1) (which as a consequence also excludes the application of the rule on the extension of this period up to a maximum of 45 days in individual cases).
The application of certain provisions of Regulation (EC) No 810/2009 should therefore be temporarily suspended for nationals of The Gambia who are subject to the visa requirement pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2018/1806 of the European Parliament and of the Council. This ought to encourage the Gambian authorities to undertake the necessary actions to improve cooperation on readmission matters.
According to the website of the German Embassy in Senegal, the stern measures on Gambian applicants have been in effect since last year as part of a temporary suspension of the implementation of certain provisions of the Visa code which resulted in modified and stringent application requirements and procedures for Gambians.
The information found on the Visa and Consular section of the German embassy website in Senegal clearly reiterates the above provisions as reason for the 45 days extension of visa processing for Gambian citizens. The information reads as follows:
INFO for Gambian applicants
With Council implementation decision (EU) 2021/1781 dated 07/10/2021 with respect to The Gambia, the council has decided the temporary suspension of the implementation of certain provisions of the Visa Code. This will result in modified application requirements and procedures from 01/11/2021:
decision on the visa application will only be taken 45 days after the complete set of documents have been handed in with the Embassy
Recent reports have suggested that some undocumented Gambians were being rounded up for deportation from certain parts of Europe. If these reports are confirmed to be true, then it begs the question of whether the 'said' unwillingness from the Gambian authorities to receive deportees only applied to a specific moment when they were unwilling to comply or if it only applied to certain EU countries
Infact, a report by The Standard published on July 15 2022 did actually confirm the arrival of 25 deported Gambians from Germany.
The Standard quoted the director of Diaspora Affairs at the Foreign Affairs ministry, Musa Camara as saying that The Gambia government should "not be blamed for accepting its citizens who have exhausted all legal remedies to stay in other countries."
Therefore, if these signs of gradual dwindling of the 'said' reluctance from the side of the Gambian authorities to cooperate for the deportation of her citizens were anything to go by, then the 45 days extension of visa processing for Gambian applicants should have been relaxed by now.
The Geneva Convention does allow for the deportation of refugees when their presence constitutes a danger to the security of the country in which they are found. However, it is unclear why some undocumented Gambian migrants who constituted no danger were being rounded up and camped (in the manner it was reported by some media outlets) almost readied for immediate deportation back to the Gambia - a country whose authorities have 'purportedly' expressed 'unwillingness to cooperate' in this matter, according to the EU communique released on October 7th 2021.
When contacted, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gambia did not respond.