Fatou Lamin Faye
Fatou Lamin Faye, Minister of Basic and Secondary Education

Schoolchildren from the West African nation of The Gambia will no longer be able to go on exchange visits to the West Flemish port city of Ostend, Belgium.

The decision to end school exchange visits from Gambia was taken by the Ostend city authorities on Monday. There have been several cases of Gambian children “disappearing” during exchange visits to Ostend in the past.

In December 2015 two Gambian schoolchildren ran away while visiting Ostend. Just prior to a leaving party for their group they disappeared. They wrote in a letter that they had done so to “try their chances in Europe”.

As this was not the first such incident the City of Ostend decided to review the Gambian exchange project. Now the city authorities have decided that no more Gambian schoolchildren will be allowed to visit the city. However, pupils from Ostend will still be welcome in Gambia.

The Head of the Roman Catholic Saint-Andreas Institute that takes part in the exchange program says that the decision is a logical one.

“Both the city authorities in Banjul and the city authorities in Ostend have a responsibility towards the parents of the children taking part in the exchange program. If both city authorities are not able to guarantee that the children from Banjul will return, then the chance that the exchange will resume in the future is very small. However, this now begs the question of whether this is still the project we signed up for all those years ago”, the school Head told VRT News.