Inside Gambia’s Immigration Racket

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By Yankuba Jallow

Foroyaa’s eight-month investigation has revealed that some personnel of the Gambia Immigration Department (GID) have been unlawfully taking money from other West African nationals residing in the Gambia.

The receipt they give to most of the non-Gambians is unofficial.

The receipts were shown to officials of the Ministry of Finance, particularly the Accountant General’s Office, who expressed shock over the practice. The officials said they would investigate the matter and then act against such practices.

Under the Gambia laws, all official receipts should come from the Gambia Public Printing Corporation (GPPC)bearing the coat of arms and the name of the institution issuing it. It also has space to indicate the purpose for payment and the amount paid. All Government receipts have serial numbers for accounting and auditing purposes.

The payments that the non-Gambians make likewise Gambians are both sources of revenue for the State. The department announced that they collected over 64 Million Dalasi in the first three months of 2023 and their target for the whole year is 150 Million Dalasi.

The reporter’s investigation, which takes both open source and undercover means, revealed that the department is losing thousands of Dalasi owing to the corrupt practices of some of the officers.

The Immigration Department is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Immigration Act of 1965. The Act came into effect on 31 January 1965 and intends to consolidate and make better provisions for the control of immigration-related issues. It gives powers to the Director General of the GID to issue residential permits to non-Gambians residing in the Gambia.

A non-Gambian residing in the country is required by law to pay a certain fee to obtain a residential permit. The payments received for the residential permit are a huge source of revenue for the country. However, for some immigration officers, it is a means of making personal gains from non-Gambian citizens.

What We Know?

At the end of the first 3 months of each year, Immigration personnel would begin inspections otherwise known as patrols in the townships. They ask people they meet in the streets for papers and would arrest those found without documents.

Some people after being arrested would prefer to give cash to the officials and then proceed on their businesses, while others would be taken to their respective stations for further detention.

Unofficial receipt

The reporter was able to speak to 38 nationals of Guinea, Senegal and Nigeria and all of them had unofficial receipts issued by the Immigration officials. He was also shown documents by other people amounting to 13, though he could not interview them. They all have similar papers. While examining the papers, this reporter observed that they all have the stamp of the Gambia Immigration Department. He was able to speak to 17 people who claimed that they had been giving the personnel money and they had no interest in getting the cards. They only need the white paper receipt and then they will be free from arrests.

The type of receipt the Immigration officials give them is an A4 size paper cut to different sizes and then the officer would write the person’s name. The information that is written would confirm that the person has paid for the non-Gambian card and is due for enrolment. Some officers will put their contact details on the paper, with receipts stamped by the immigration.

Unofficial Receipt

The investigation into the matter revealed that the stamp is being abused and this is what the story seeks to expose.

The Public Relations Officer (PRO) and his deputy for the Gambia Immigration Department informed Foroyaa that the foreign nationals should go and pay on time. The two officers explained that between January and March of each year, the Immigration personnel do not go for inspections to enable people to regularise their immigration status by ensuring that they get their documents.

“You don’t have to wait to be arrested to make payments. You don’t need to give anyone money. Go and make your payment, get your receipt and then ensure that you are given the card,” PRO Mamanding S. Dibba said.

He called on the non-Gambians to make the work of immigration easy by going and making payments at ease.

Some people are arrested after work hours and they cannot enrol them.

After collecting monies from them, the Immigration officers would in turn give some of them receipts while others do not get any receipts. The receipts that they give the non-Gambians are handwritten with no amount indicated. Some of the receipts have the stamp of the immigration while others do not. The receipts they issue are not recognised government receipts.

“I paid D3800 at Tallinding Immigration Post and they did not give me the permit. They only wrote something on a piece of paper and stamped it, which I am currently using. But this is not the permit, I paid to get a permit and they have not given me the permit yet,” a Guinean national said.

He stated that a Guinean should pay Three Thousand, Six Hundred Dalasi (D3600) but he paid Three Thousand, Eight Hundred Dalasi (D3800) because the immigration officers at Tallinding told him that he should pay Two Hundred Dalasi (D200) extra because he was arrested and they had used fuel to get him.

He explained that the receipt the Station Officer (S.O) of Tallinding gave him only has the stamp of immigration with the information that he is due for enrolment for a permit.

“When I call the S.O. he always gives me excuses. He always fails to honour all his appointments with me. I made payment to him and I need my permit,” the ICE Cream salesman said.

The father of one recalled when he was found at a shop taking break and was arrested by Immigration. He explained that he was detained from morning till 8 pm without access to food and water.

“This was in June 2023 and I made the full payment for the permit. I don’t understand why until now I did not get my permit. I want my money or the permit,” he said.

The Gambia Immigration Department (GID) would deploy its operatives to go around the towns and villages to conduct routine patrols. These officers would request documentation from people they meet on the roads and others they find at workplaces like markets, shops or other gathering places. They take the people without documents with them to their stations and detain them there.

“I have been arrested in my first and second years in the Gambia and I made payments at the Immigration office at Babun Fatty. Now, I understand the system. No one arrests me because I know how to deal with the immigration officers. They like money,” a Guinean national said.

Another man said he paid Three Thousand Seven Hundred Dalasi (D3,700) at the Immigration Headquarters in Banjul and he was issued with the permit. The problem he mentioned was that the fee this year is expensive.

Another group of immigrants said the system is very easy to bypass. They all said since they knew the fee for the permit was expensive, they paid One Thousand Dalasi (D1,000) to their friends at the different Immigration stations to obtain the receipts.

“Every year, I pay D1,000 to an immigration officer who provides me a receipt which I use to move around town. The receipt contains his name, rank and contact details. When I show the immigration officers that asked for papers, they would let me go. It is very easy,” the 28-year-old said.

He explained that he has been in the Gambia since 2012 and he has only paid the permit fees in full three times.

“I cannot pay the D3000 plus because it is expensive. I only gave my friend D1000 and he gave me the receipt which I used for the whole year. It is very easy,” he said.

Another boy who does wheelbarrow pushing said he won’t pay for the permit. When asked why, he said he prefers giving the immigration personnel One Hundred Dalasi (D100) or Two Hundred Dalasi (D200) to be allowed to pass to paying the whole sum for the permit.

“Now, some of them recognise me. When I tell them, I don’t have money with me they let me pass. I sometimes give them Fifty Dalasi (D50) and they don’t complain. Once you have money, you can move freely in town because what they want is money,” the boy said.

A 40-year-old man who has a shop and another boy who does wheelbarrow pushing said they only paid Five Hundred Dalasi (D500) to obtain the receipts from the immigration.

Another salesman in the market said he paid Two Thousand Dalasi (D2,000), which was less than the fee for a permit, but he was not issued with a receipt.

“I came to the Gambia 2 months ago. I am yet to settle down. They arrested me and collected D2000 from me,” the witness said.

He explained that nowadays if the immigration officers come to Serrekunda, he usually gives them D200 or D300 to avoid arrest.

Most of the people who pay bribes to Immigration officers to get receipts, said the permit fee varies and it depends on what the immigration personnel charges you, and your bargaining power.

On the issue of the unofficial receipts, the PRO and his deputy informed Foroyaa that some people would make deposits and they would be released with the commitment that the person would come the following day to complete their payments.

“Some of them if you issue them the paper, they don’t come back to make follow-ups,” he said.

“There are some, even after making full payments; they would not come back for the enrolment to get the cards.”

The press officers said the card is very crucial and each person should ensure that they get it. They also stated that since the purported receipts bear the stamp of the immigration, it means it is accounted for.

On the contrary, our investigations revealed that some people would pay One Thousand Dalasi (D1000) and would be released by immigration. Notably, at the Tallinding Immigration Station, the reporter witnessed twice immigration officers encouraging the detainees to pay D1000 and then let them go home.

“If you have D1000 pay it and go home. We won’t give you any paper. It is only to secure your release,” a junior immigration officer at the Tallinding Station was heard telling the detainees.

In that raid, the immigration made arrests of over 25 but at the time of arrival at the office, they only came with 14. The others were visibly giving the officers on patrol money, resulting in their release. The 14 people while in the cell were asked to pay each One Thousand Dalasi to go home and 8 of them paid, but went home without papers. The reporter spent some hours at the station to observe. One of the detainees, who was implanted by the reporter, told the officers that he wanted to make full payment and that he was not interested in their D1000 offer for freedom. He paid the full fee for a Senegalese national at the Tallinding Immigration Office. He requested a receipt and he was given the unofficial receipt. The receipt he was given is the usual unofficial receipt they give people. The boy was sent out of their office when he insisted on getting a receipt with the amount there.

“Have you seen what I have been telling you?” the boy told the reporter at the entrance of the Tallinding Police Station also housing the Immigration Office.

“I have been telling you that what the immigration officers are doing is not right and you people should investigate and report the matter to their authorities.”

“I decided to accept your proposal to be arrested by the immigration and you gave me money to pay in full. You lost your money and see the receipt they gave me. Do you call this a receipt?

“They do not care whether you pay in full or half. The paper or receipt they give you is this and you have seen for yourself what they do daily. What is a receipt without an amount on it?” the boy asked.

The reporter felt that it could have been an isolated incident. His mind changed when he interacted with 38 foreign nationals, who explained their personal experiences they encounter at the cells and within the immigration premises.

Some of the inmates would leave their mobile phones as guarantees for bail and on the following day, they would come and make payment based on what the immigration personnel requested to get back their mobile phones and the so-called receipt paper.