8,000 refugees in Gambia

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Gambia is playing host to about 8,000 refugees fleeing instability in some African countries, particularly West Africa, statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Banjul has indicated.

The UN agency said the bulk of these people who fled their countries due to war, persecution and violence are mainly from neighboring Southern Senegal region of Casamance residing in the Fonis while the rest are from DR Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo, Somalia, and Darfur, who reside in the urban and peri-urban areas of The Gambia.

Speaking at the commemoration of World Refugee Day (WRD) yesterday, Sekou K. Saho, head of UNHCR Banjul office, said there exists a strong bond of partnership and support between UNHCR and other development partners in the drive to making the refugees in The Gambia feel at home.

The 2017 WRD was celebrated in The Gambia in form of a march past from Bundung Police Station to Buffer Zone in Tallinding where government officials and other stakeholders delivered keynote statements to mark the day, on the theme ‘We stand together #WithRefugees’.

Mr Saho said the day is meant to honour the resilience and courage of more than 65 million people who have been forced to flee war, persecution and violence.

“It’s also a moment to recognise those communities and people around the world who receive refugees and the internally displaced in their midst, offering them a safe haven, and welcoming them in their schools, their workplaces and their societies,” he said.

Interior Minister Mai Ahmed Fatty said being a refugee is not the choice of any person.

“It is not your choice that you are in The Gambia,” he told the refugee community in the country.  “We understand the circumstances that led to your flights from your countries seeking refuge here some years ago.”

He noted that hundreds of Gambians have also left the country to foreign lands because the condition in the country then was inhospitable and people’s freedom was curtailed.

Yusufa J. Gomez, executive director of Gambia Food and Nutrition Association (GAFNA), said GAFNA has been in partnership with UNHCR for more than a decade and has since been implementing projects geared towards the welfare of refugees residing in 81 villages in the Foni area of the West Coast Region and in the Greater Banjul Area.

He emphasized that the focus of this year’s theme of World Refugee Day reminds both the refugees and hosts in The Gambia that both UNHCR and governments the world over including host communities are together with refugees in assisting them to live  dignified and decent lives wherever they exist.

However, he said, it is evident that the majority of refugees are faced with enormous challenges ranging from livelihood, health, social protection and so forth after departing their countries of origin in emergency situations.

It is on this backdrop that GAFNA, as a national development NGO, has built partnership with UNHCR to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in order to reduce their vulnerability and improve their socio-economic status as they continue to live in The Gambia.

“The support provided is also geared towards redressing some of the stress placed on the available social amenities in the host communities that is partly due to the influx of these refugees into these communities,” GAFNA executive director said.