The United Nations refugee agency will dispatch another team to southern Gambia this week as thousands of Senegalese refugees sweep across the border to escape rising tensions in their country’s volatile Casamance region.
More than 4,500 Senegalese have swamped villages along the Gambian border over the past few days, adding to the 1,600 people who crossed the boundary during the first six months of this year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Casamance, located south of Gambia and separated from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia River, has been the scene of sporadic clashes between the Senegalese military and separatist rebel forces since 1982. Reports say the Government has launched a fresh offensive against the rebels, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance, UNHCR added.
After visiting the villages of Gifanga and Kusumai, UNHCR staff say Senegalese refugees now outnumber the local population. Many host families whom have taken in many of the new arrivals can no longer cope with more people and local authorities have had to open up a school and training centres to house the newcomers. Food is another concern, as the locals do not have enough to share with the refugees, who brought little food with them.
“We are in the middle of the rainy season and the new crops have just been planted. Food reserves from last year would have been exhausted by this time of year,” said Ron Mponda, UNHCR chief of mission in Gambia.
The refugee agency will deploy another emergency officer to Gambia and is considering the distribution of one-time food assistance and improving the sanitation facilities in the communal shelters.
There are now about 12,500 refugees in Gambia, including the latest arrivals. About half are from Sierra Leone, while some Liberian refugees remain in the country.