UN agency dispatches team to confirm report of Senegalese refugees fleeing into Gambia

UN agency dispatches team to confirm report of Senegalese refugees fleeing into Gambia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has dispatched a team to Gambia to check on reports that some 1,000 people have crossed its border from southern Senegal following renewed clashes between the Senegalese army and separatist rebels.

According to the local Red Cross, since May, more than 3,700 people have arrived in Gambia from the Casamance region, a spokesperson for UNHCR said in Geneva, adding that a number of them may have returned.

In the past, those fleeing Casamance generally stayed in the border area of Gambia for a couple of weeks and returned home as soon as the situation calmed down, UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Clark said.

"With very limited means, UNHCR usually organizes emergency assistance at the border and offers transfer to one of the refugee camps in the interior of the country, which most of the refugees decline," Ms. Clark said. "They are reluctant to go to the camp, which are situated some 200 kilometres inland, preferring to wait at the border until the situation calms down, and then return home."

The Casamance region, which is separated from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia River, has been the scene of clashes between government forces and separatist rebels since rebel activity began in 1982, according to UNHCR.

Last weekend, the Senegalese army announced that it had begun an operation to curb increased insecurity and banditry in the region, Ms. Clark said.