Briefing Notes, 28 June 2002
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Clark – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 28 June 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR has learned that about 1,000 people fled from southern Senegal's Casamance region into neighbouring Gambia over the weekend, following renewed clashes between the Senegalese army and separatist rebels from the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). A UNHCR team has gone to the Gambia to check out the report. Since May, more than 3,700 people crossed the border to the Gambia from Casamance according to the local Red Cross. A number of them may have returned.
The Casamance region, which is separated from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia River, has been the scene of clashes between the government forces and separatist rebels since rebel activity began in 1982.
Last weekend, the Senegalese army announced that it had begun an operation to curb increased insecurity and banditry in Casamance.
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. With very limited means, UNHCR usually organises 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. They are reluctant to go to the camp, which are situated some 200 km inland, preferring to wait at the border until the situation calms down, and then return home.
Gambia is already host to some 12,000 refugees – some 7,000 of them are from Sierra Leone and 4,000 are from Senegal.