BANJUL: The Gambia has formally blocked flights returning migrants deported from the EU, a sensitive political issue in the tiny West African state, which argues that it cannot reintegrate them.
The move also comes ahead of a presidential election in December -- and some have interpreted it as a government bid to boost electoral support ahead of the poll, reports AFP.
It also has a long tradition of migration. An estimated 118,000 Gambians live abroad, according to the International Organisation for Migration, who send home remittances worth over 20 percent of the country's GDP.
This week, The Gambia's government said that it would block all flights returning migrants from the EU, just as Germany was preparing to expel a number of Gambians.
Gambian foreign ministry spokesman Saikou Ceesay told AFP that the government decreed the policy in June, explaining that large numbers of returning migrants would cause "social upheaval".
"We are trying to consolidate the peace, stability and democracy we have in this country," he said.
The Gambia was ruled by violent dictator Yahya Jammeh for 22 years, until he was forced from power in 2017 after losing a presidential election to Adama Barrow.
A European diplomat, who declined to be named, described The Gambia's move to block migrant returns as "a political issue" motivated by the upcoming election.
European governments complain that The Gambia has never fully cooperated on returns, however.
The West African country signed a non-binding agreement on returns with the EU in 2018, for example, which the diplomat said it had "never fully respected".
But European governments are increasingly fed up. The European Council is due to examine a proposal which would tighten access to EU visas for Gambians, for example, over the country's "failure to cooperate on readmission".