By MUHAMMED S. BAH
25 young people across the country have been finally trained as Trainers on Guidance and Counselling, to serve in their communities as first aiders for returnees who have ventured in the perilous journey to seek greener pastures.
According to the organisers of the training, these young people will help those returnees who will be coming from different parts of the world, with psychological distress.
The training was organised by the Gambia National Youth Council (NYC) in collaboration with the Gambia Immigration Department (GID) and supported by the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), a four-year initiative implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in partnership with the Gambia Government and funded by the European Union.
The 5-day Intensive Training on Guidance and Counselling for Youth on Returnees’ Management took place from 5 to 9 July at the Bwiam Child Fund Lodge in Foni Kansala District of the West Coast Region.
This training of the youth counsellors served as a kick-off for a pilot programme to offer counselling for returning migrants, supported by the YEP project. The counselling programme includes orientation of the returnees on the economic opportunities, skills development programmes and support mechanisms available in the Gambia, and an assessment of interests, skill sets and needs for possible linkages with service providers.
Kawsu Sillah, Consultant at the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), said the training is part of the collective efforts of Government and its development partners to tackle irregular youth migration and accelerate the collective efforts to re-integrate voluntary returnees back home.
Mr. Sillah further stated that unfavourable economic conditions, high rates of unemployment as well as difficult political conditions over recent years have compelled young Gambians to migrate to Libya and Italy, through the Mediterranean Sea, in search of better livelihood.
He said according to the recent International Organization on Migration (IMO) report on Gambia, it has been estimated that more than 25,000 Gambian irregular migrants are languishing in refugee camps in Italy jobless.
He said majority of these youths have gone through difficult conditions during their stay in Libya, waiting to pass through to Italy. As a response to the call of the Gambian Community in Libya, Government, through the ministry of Foreign Affairs is working closely with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to assist stranded young Gambians to return home. According to statistics from the Gambia Immigration Department, there have recently been more than a thousand youths repatriated, and more are expected to arrive soon.
The YEP Consultant underscored that the training brought together 25 youth counsellors, representing youth groups from regions and stakeholders across the country, dealing with youth irregular migration issues in the country. Training sessions were conducted by seasoned experts from WHO Gambia, the Gambia Immigration Department, University of the Gambia, the Gambia Red Cross Society and the Network Against Gender Based Violence.
“Participants took part in aptitude assessments and were trained on techniques and ethics of guidance and counselling. The training topics included crisis situation management, psychological distress and depression management, psychological first aid (PFA) and crisis event simulation,” Mr. Sillah disclosed.
Jawara Cham, Chief Inspector of the Gambia Immigration Department, addressed the participants and said that some of the core factors of youth irregular migration to Europe are poverty, limited job opportunities, peer influence and family pressure, as well as the mindset of youths that life is only possible in the West.
‘’Let us educate and sensitize youngsters in our various communities to understand that one can make a good living in the Gambia,’’ Mr. Cham challenged youth leaders.
The lead facilitator of the training, Mr. Dawda Samba, Country Facilitator of the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program at the WHO Gambia Office, said: ‘‘The Gambia should not only be a country that receives its own citizens but should be prepared to re-integrate these citizens into communities. It should be our collective responsibility to guide, counsel and help rebuild the lives of our fellow young people who return.”
He went on explaining that some of the migrants have faced untold physical, social and emotional trauma during transit and in the host countries, which may cause invisible mental scars that can also extend to their families.
‘‘I learned a lot from the training. Now I know what Psychological First Aid is about, when and how to counsel a person who has experienced traumatic stress and how to offer humanitarian service, guidance and counselling to returnees’’ said Fatoumatta Fatty, a participant from Kanifing Municipality Regional Youth Committee.
Hon. Musa Amul Nyassi, National Assembly member, advised youths to desist from venturing into the perilous ‘backway’ and work hard to make it in the country. He expressed commitment as a National Assembly member, to champion the welfare of the youths in the National Assembly.
The Gambia Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is a four-year project that aims to support youth employment and entrepreneurship in the country in order to address the economic root causes of irregular migration from The Gambia. The project is funded by the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund for Africa with a total budget of EUR 11 million. By improving the employability of youth, especially potential and returning migrants, increasing income opportunities along value chains and helping young entrepreneurs connect to trade and tap into the digital economy, can help change the current migration trends and contribute to building the long-term growth and economic competitiveness of The Gambia.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. The organisation’s aim is for businesses in developing countries to become more competitive in global markets, speeding up economic development and contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Global Goals for sustainable development.
The European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa addresses the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa. More specifically, it helps address the root causes of destabilisation, forced displacement and irregular migration by promoting economic and equal opportunities, strengthening security, development and resilience of vulnerable people.