Prolonged political uncertainty and fear of unrest have pushed thousands of Gambians across the border into neighbouring Senegal and farther to Guinea-Bissau.
The national coordinator for Guinea-Bissau’s refugee commission, Tibna Sambe Na Wana said more than 1,000 Gambians had crossed into the country where they do not require a visa, in recent days.
“It is clear that the total number is far higher than a thousand and rising daily,” Na Wana said.
They fear their own lives. This is why they are running. Even my own family some of them have left, they went to Jarra.
Women, children and the elderly made up the greatest numbers, the official said, with more than 500 passing one border post near the town of Jegue in three days.
“They fear their own lives. This is why they are running. Even my own family some of them have left, they went to Jarra. If you go to the ferry terminal or the GPTC you will see so many people. They are running, leaving the country because they fear their lives.” said an unidentified resident.
In Senegal, the UN’s refugee agency said, “several thousand people” had crossed into the southern Casamance region from The Gambia, especially children.
Senegal and The Gambia have deep ethnic and linguistic ties, and most families have relatives living across the border.
“Most arrivals in Senegal are Gambians and Senegalese who have been working or living in The Gambia,but Africans from several other nations were also crossing,” said Liz Ahua, UNHCR’s representative for West Africa in Dakar.
A nation of fewer than two million people, The Gambia already accounts for the highest number of migrants per capita of any nationality crossing the Mediterranean on smugglers’ boats to Italy.
The effects of the crisis were further scrutinised across the continent in Addis Ababa, where the African Union (AU) declared it would no longer recognise President Jammeh as head of state on January 19, regardless of the Supreme Court case.
Jammeh has said he wants to wait for the Supreme Court to sit and hear his case, but the Gambian Bar Association on Friday said his term could not legally be extended except through a referendum altering the constitution.