Friday, July 19, 2024

Former Gambian Ambassador in UAE testifies before NA Public Petitions Committee

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By: Dawda Baldeh

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Fansu Bojang, the former Gambian ambassador to the United Arab Emirate (UAE), who is now the Director General of the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) appeared before the National Assembly Public Petitions Commission yesterday 19th July 2023 to respond to a petition that was filed to his office in 2020 by a group of Gambians who claimed to have been representing stranded Gambians in the UAE during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking before the committee led by the Honourable Suwaibou Touray of the Wuli East Constituency, Mr. Bojang said his office had done all it took to help repatriate Gambians who were stranded in the UAE and wanted to return.

The petition was filed by a group of individuals namely, Mansour Faye, Muhammed Kijera, Kinta Kinteh, Ousman Jallow, Assan Jallow, Omar Manneh, Demba Badjie and Delam Yuri Bah.

Mr. Bojang told the committee that the said petition was made at a time when the government of the UAE was dealing with the whole world to facilitate the return of people to their respective countries.

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“Our case was a different one because we were asking for support at a time when there was panic and wanted to return to their countries.

“Things weren’t fast because we can only send emails and make calls for follow-up because everyone was working from home,” he said while responding to questions on what led to the delay in repatriating Gambians from the UAE.

He told the committee that his office came to be aware of a petition after they saw a reporter presenting a claim online in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Banjul claiming to be representing a group of Gambians stranded in the UAE.

“The ministry contacted us and on the 10th of June 2020 we received the letter from the said group address to the embassy, but it was more of seeking support than complaint,” he said.

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The committee chairperson told the witness that the petition was written to the National Assembly to look into complaints of the Gambians in the UAE who were seeking assistance from the embassy.

“Before the petition, the embassy had already written to the UAE authorities for support at the height of the pandemic to help transport Gambians that were caught up by the pandemic and wanted to return.

Flights were suspended commercially. Citizens from all over the world wanted to leave the UAE but it was difficult. About 80% of the UAE are all foreigners. Their population is little over nine million people and the citizens are less than a million,” he added.

The witness told the committee that even states that had their national flights were charging their citizens repatriated at an exorbitant price.

“Gambia was not part of those countries that had their national flights. We depended on support to help the citizens return.

We approached the UAE government for assistance, and they asked us to collect details of our citizens who want to return.

We created a platform and invited the association representing the Gambian community in the UAE and discussed it with them.

Every detail was shared on the platform, so people don’t need to make formal arrangements to meet the embassy. They can channel their concerns using the platform and the embassy will pick it from there,” Bojang explained.

According to him, only 58 people submitted their passports who wanted to return at the time but before they could secure air tickets for them, only 9 ended up showing interest to return who were given the tickets with support from the UAE authorities.

He noted that flights were very expensive and looking at the situation of some of the citizens they could not pay for it.

“This group of people claiming to have been representing Gambians in the UAE is not known to us. Only one name in their signatory is familiar (Mansour Faye) whose name was in the list of those who first submitted their names to return,” he told the committee.

Despite denying knowing the group, Bojang admitted that they have the right to be represented by the embassy but noted that it happened at a time when the office had engaged the UAE authorities in a process that took them about five to six months for the stranded Gambians to be repatriated.

Mr. Bojang told the committee that his office has been doing all it takes to bring Gambians in the UAE together for familiarization by holding a national day celebration together and hosting a religious feast with the Gambian community.

“We do organize a football tournament for the Gambians in the UAE and after the tournament, we hold formal discussions. The association was publicized enough for every Gambian that has the interest to register with the embassy and have had the opportunity to know about it,” he explained.

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