Gambia: New arrivals from Senegal

Briefing Notes, 31 October 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 31 October 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Refugees from Senegal's southern Casamance region continue to arrive in Gambian villages along the border. Over 800 arrived across the border between Senegal and Gambia during the second half of October, bringing the total to more than 6,200 Senegalese refugees in Gambia.

The Casamance area, located south of Gambia, has been the scene of sporadic fighting between the Senegalese armed forces and the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance since 1982.

The latest wave of displacement started in mid-August this year, and was prompted by the renewed rise in tensions between the Senegal Armed Forces and the separatists ("Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance" or MFDC).

Senegalese refugees are presently accommodated in 46 villages in Gambia's Sibanor region, approximately 90 kilometres east of the capital, Banjul. They are staying with the host families of similar cultural and linguistic background. However, accommodation capacity is running low. In August, local authorities in Gambia were forced to open two public facilities a local school and a training centre to shelter refugees as there was no more room either in local households or in host compounds.

According to reports from UNHCR staff, most of the refugees are young and of rural origin. A little more than half of them (52 percent) are women. Twenty percent of the refugees are children under the age of five, while 8 percent are 60 years or over.

The UN agencies present in Gambia were mobilized to provide refugees with food and humanitarian assistance. In addition to coordinating relief for the refugees, UNHCR this month has distributed a thousand blankets, mattresses, kitchen utensils, jerry cans and soap. Similar assistance was also provided to the Gambian families hosting refugees from Senegal. To strengthen the local humanitarian network, UNHCR signed an agreement with the Gambian Red Cross Society, which will ensure the distribution of UNHCR relief items and assistance until the end of the year. We are also looking at covering the medical expenses of Senegalese refugees admitted and cared for in medical facilities in the Sibanore area.