More refugees flee to the Gambia from Senegal's Casamance province

Press Releases, 6 June 2001

Geneva A rebel offensive in Senegal's Casamance province has forced more than 1,000 people to flee into Gambia this week, bringing to 3,500 the number of refugees since fresh fighting broke out in mid-May, UNHCR staff along the border reported today.

On Tuesday, hundreds of refugees carrying belongings were still arriving through Gjiboro border post, just south of Gambia's capital, Banjul. The arrivals reported heavy fighting between Senegalese government forces and the separatist MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance). Over 500 refugees arrived on Monday morning alone, mostly women and children.

The refugees said the latest influx was triggered by reports that rebels had captured the Senegal town of Selity, two kilometres south of Gbijoro, looting its armoury and destroying communications equipment.

Refugees from the northern Casamance village of Jakoi Banga informed UNHCR staff that they fled after Senegalese soldiers started digging defence trenches near their village on Saturday. UNHCR staff visiting border villages were told by refugees they were advised by rebels to leave for the Gambia ahead of advancing Senegalese troops.

The government of Gambia has decided to transfer over 800 refugees of the new arrivals camped at the Gjiboro border post to Kwinella Transit camp, 70 kms north of the border, for security reasons. Several hundred other refugees were encamped in Gambia's southern border villages. UNHCR, working with WFP and the Red Cross Society of the Gambia, is providing emergency assistance to the refugees.

The civil conflict in Senegal's southern Casamance Province began in 1982 and has simmered on since then, sometimes breaking out into all-out war. Several peace agreements between the government of Senegal and the separatist MFDC rebels have broken down in the past with hard-line elements in the MFDC insisting on independence from Dakar.

UNHCR is caring for 12,400 refugees in the Gambia, including 1,675 from Senegal who arrived before the recent upsurge in fighting.