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Gambian refugees in Germany: on the way out?

Daniel Pelz
December 6, 2016

Gambians make up the third largest group of African refugees in Germany. With Gambia on the road to democracy and Germany's goverment getting tough on immigration, will they be allowed to stay? DW's Daniel Pelz reports.

Two Gambian refugees sitting at a table at a cafe in Berlin
Gambian refugees in Berlin wonder if they will be allowed to stay in GermanyImage: DW/D.Pelz

A broad smile flickers over Bubacar Drammeh's face each time he remembers last Friday's elections in Gambia. "It feels like paradise," the 42-year-old refugee says.

The messages he receieved on WhatsApp looked like a hoax at first. But once he realized that the opposition had ousted long-term ruler Yahya Jammeh, he could not stop celebrating.

"Everything will be fine. The security people are even happier than the people themselves," Drammeh says as we meet in a cafe in Berlin. 

But the smile on his face quickly disappears. He starts looking nervously around the room and his voice slows down.

"When I applied for political asylum in Germany, I thought everything would be fine. But at this moment I think it will be very difficult, because we now have freedom in Gambia. I don't think I'll have a chance to get asylum here any more," Bubacar says.

Conservative German politicians call for more deportations

Bubacar Drammeh is not his real name. But he does not want his real name to appear in the story. His application for asylum is still pending.

"We have quite a lot of refugees from Gambia in our state and we have plenty of problems with them," the interior minister of Germany's southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Thomas Strobl, told German media before the Gambian elections.

Police officers searching African men during a police operation in Berlin in 2014
Some Gambians in Germany are suspected to be involved in drug smuggling (File)Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

According to the authorities, about 8 percent of Gambians in Baden-Wuerttemberg are suspected drug traffickers and peddlers. The state hosts the majority of the 14,500 Gambian refugees in Germany. They make up the third largest group of African refugees in the country. Refugee activists point out that many are forced into the trade. Without a refugee status, they do not have the right to work legally in Germany.

Many struggle to support their families back home and pay off the debts they incurred on the journey to Europe.

Strobl is part of a chorus of conservative German politicans who are calling for more deportations for migrants whose applications for asylum have been rejected.

With democracy returning to Gambia, deportations could become easier. It could be declared a "safe country of origin," meaning that applications from Gambians for asylum status would hardly stand a chance and deportations would generally be allowed.

"We don't know where Gambia is going"

A spokesman for Germany's Federal Ministry for Internal Affairs said that he was not aware of any current plans to declare Gambia a safe country of origin.

But politicians like Christoph Straesser, member of parliament for the Social Democratic Party and chairman of the party's parliamentary working group on Africa, fear that the discussion about it is going to gather speed. But he thinks it would be wrong to categorize Gambia as "safe" so quickly.

Police officers in front of a bus carrying rejected migrants to an airplane
Some German politicans want more deportations of rejected migrantsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Willnow

"We do not even know in which direction Gambia is going," Straesser says. "There are still opposition politicans locked up in prison. There is still a system of torture in prisons. A United Nations commission was not allowed to inspect prisons a while ago. Despite all the joy about the elections, starting this discussion now does not match the reality in Gambia at the moment."

Gambian refugee Bubacar Drammeh is trying his best to stay calm as he waits for the outcome of his asylum application.

"I'd rather stay here in Germany," he says before he disappears into the dark night and the winter chills of Berlin.

"I know so many people here, I have made friends. It will be very hard for me to go back to Gambia now and just sit there."