Gambia's Jammeh expels European Union diplomat, asks ICC to investigate death of African migrants at sea

Jammeh has flip-flopped on the issue of migrants, saying they were not good Muslims, then offering Muslim boat people in South East Asia sanctuary.

GAMBIAN President Yahya Jammeh ordered European Union Charge d’Affaires Agnes Guillard to leave the country, the presidency said.

Guillard was given 72 hours to leave the tiny West African nation, according to a statement broadcast on state radio in the capital, Banjul, on June 5. The president didn’t give any reason for the expulsion.

On the same day Gambia’s government formally requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to the European mainland.

Jammeh made the request at a meeting with ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, according to a statement read on state radio on Friday in the capital, Banjul.

Last year, at least 3,500 asylum seekers and migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to southern Europe. A further 219,000 people successfully made the crossing.

Jammeh has flip-flopped on the issue of African migrants undertaking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean often in rickety boats, making it difficult to fathom his real views.

Not “true Muslims”

In May he berated Gambian families sending migrants on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, suggesting they were not “true Muslims”.

Jammeh acknowledged in an address on state-run television that “there were many funerals in the country a few weeks ago because a lot of people died in the Mediterranean”.

“Those who paid for their sons and daughters to embark on this risky journey claimed their children would have died if they were still around,” he said.

“But if these people are true Muslims and really believe in what they are saying, then they should equally believe that their sons and daughters could have made it at home if they were ready to invest and work.”

Sanctuary for boat people

“We all saw on television Europeans complaining of economic hardship, yet still people in this country would pay for their sons and daughters to go and die in the Mediterranean Sea,” Jammeh said.

 “Some parents do not mind how their children earn their income in Europe, all they are interested in is the remittance sent to them,” he said.

The number of deaths has risen dramatically as boats operated by smugglers have capsized off Libya’s coast, triggering alarm among European leaders seeking to halt the flow.

In early May the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, estimated that around 60,000 men, women and children had braved the Mediterranean so far this year. More than 2,000 have perished in the attempt so far.

However, a week after those comments by Jammeh, that critics said showed a lack of sympathy or concern about offering solutions expected of a leader, Jammeh sought to put on a compassionate hut, offering sanctuary to thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people of Southeast Asia who had at that point been turned away by Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, before they backed down under international pressure.

The boat people were baffled by the offer from The Gambia, a country they had never heard of.

Asked about the offer from the impoverished and illiberal country, one them simply responded: “What is the meaning of Gambia?”

-Bloomberg, AFP

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