Gambia: 2,000+ return voluntarily to Senegal

Briefing Notes, 8 June 2001

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Peter Kessler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 June 2001, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than 2,000 Senegalese refugees on Thursday returned voluntarily to their homes in villages just across Gambia's southern border, only days after heavy fighting between Senegalese government forces and rebels of the separatist MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance) drove them from Senegal's Casamance Province. A group of over 800 refugees who had on Tuesday camped at Gjiboro border post, south of Gambia's capital, Banjul packed belongings and started walking back soon after visiting Senegalese officials confirmed that government forces had retaken control of towns and villages along Senegal's border.

Most of the refugees who had settled in 15 villages along Gambia's southern border have now returned home. In the meantime, Gambian authorities have asked UNHCR to transfer the remaining nearly 1,675 recent Senegalese refugees from border villages to a transit camp, 70 km north of the border.

A rebel offensive in the Casamance Province sent more than 1,000 people fleeing into neighbouring Gambia early this week and brought to 3,500 the number of refugees since fresh fighting broke out in mid-May before Thursday's returns.

The civil conflict in Senegal's southern Casamance Province has simmered since 1982. Several peace agreements between the government of Senegal and the separatist MFDC rebels have broken down in the past.

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