Up to 2,000 flee fighting in Senegal

News Stories, 10 May 2002

© UNHCR/Geographic Information and Mapping Unit

KARTUNG, Gambia, May 10 (UNHCR) Up to 2,000 new refugees have reportedly fled Senegal's southern Casamance region for southern Gambia over the past few days as fighting broke out between the Senegalese government and rebel forces.

The refugees fled the area of Diouloulou in northern Casamance and arrived in the towns of Kartung and Darsilami in Gambia. Gunshots could be heard from these border towns up till Monday. Reportedly, the Senegalese government has sent additional police forces to the area as part of a mop-up operation ahead of the May 12 municipal elections.

As of Monday, a total of 808 refugees had already been registered, the majority being women and children. 600 were temporarily put up in the local village school at Kartung, while the rest were camping outside the immigration centre at Darsilami.

By Tuesday, the figure had risen sharply to close to 2,000, including an unknown number hosted by relatives in the surrounding villages. An average of 50 to 100 refugees are said to be arriving each day through the border, where the Gambian Red Cross and UNHCR's operational partner, Gambia Food and Nutrition Association (GAFNA), are posted. Food provided by the government has been distributed to the refugees, including 50 kg of rice, 20 litres of oil, bags of onion and sugar.

An evaluation mission by the Gambian immigration authorities, the World Food Programme (WFP) and GAFNA went to the region on Tuesday to assess the situation. On Wednesday UNHCR also sent staff from Dakar to assess the refugees' needs in terms of blankets, soap and other non-food items. The assistance will be provided at a temporary camp called Kwinella. WFP released some food from Banjul to be distributed Wednesday night. The border area is situated approximately 30 km south of Banjul.

The government has made arrangements to transfer refugees from Kartung and Darsilami to Bambali refugee camp, some 200 km inland. But refugees are said to be reluctant to go to the camp, preferring to wait and see at the border until the situation calms down.

Gambia is already host to some 12,000 refugees, with about 7,000 from Sierra Leone and 4,000 from Senegal.