Feb 6, 2013, 9:58 AM
Casamance refugees recently joined refugees of the world to celebrate Refugee Cultural Day. This day brings refugees together to remember what they were doing in their home countries. This helps them to get rid of their stress and socialize away from their homeland. At Bullock, the refugees from Casamance came together from different towns around the Fonis. Cultural display marked the day and the refugees entered into what is "Futanpaf" a culture in their hometown. Augustine Kanjia went along and found out the secret behind the Cultural Day for refugees.
According to Lamin Gassama, the Dissemination Officer of the Gambia Red Cross, said it is was that brought them to the Gambia and said they were all the same. He says, "Apart from the whiteman's French and English, if you go deeply into to the two countries you find out that we speak the same languages. We deeply regret their situation."
Upon arriving in the village of Bulock, just a little above the hill from the church, we saw the many refugees from 56 communities thronged on the roadside in jubilation waiting for UNHCR and their partners, Red Cross. Jubilation ensued as they saw the GRTS vehicle approach. The dancing that was never then started. Refugees in joy had long knives, broken bottles and pebbles ready to display, the journey from the main road to the CCF grounds behind the St. John Vienney's Basic Cycle School took hours but were eventually there. The dancing and style continued until where the distinguished persons were seated. Cultural display commenced as soon as they arrived. Strong cutlasses were nearly broken but bent to their limit as they were pressed to tear their stomach. The dancing was characterised by the many display of knife and cutlass work. It was not strange because many of their hosts are able to do the same but what is peculiar about it is that the refugees have not been dancing in a long time. Their hosts too found it interesting because the rains had disturbed their social activities.
Alhaji Junkung reiterating what the Alkalo of Bulock had said they are the same people. He thanked President Jammeh. Talking about the refugees said "The one who fear not does not run. Their coming here is due to a problem in their area."
The Commander in the area of the soldiers, Timothy Sanyang says, "If you see us celebrating here is due to peace. It is Gambia that has peace. Casamance and here are the same but today because of problem they are here. You are our brothers, mothers sisters, grand fathers, grand mothers, children and friends." He assured that they were there to defend innocent civilians and assured them that their uniforms were bought from taxpayer money to defend them.
Sunkaru Badjie, Chaiman of Brikama Area Council in his speech firstly thanked the inhabitants. He said there is no one that can say he has no family member in Senegal or no Senegal can say he has no family member in The Gambia. He said soldiers, civilians and those in refugee business take their positions in refugee business. Mr. Badjie asserted that if one looks around Africa, Gambia is blessed with peace. "Children, the elderly and every body is to guard that peace.
Refugees sang songs and acted out a war situation, a situation they faced before running to The Gambia. This was quite an emotional seen as people watched, laughed and tears fell. The cultural dancing went ahead as many of the dancers were stopped from continuing to cut their skins that refused to cut.
Honourable Bintanding Jarju thanked President Jammeh and said there is no replica of President Jammeh among world presidents. "We are all the same, we have seen other countries but for Gambia we say thanks be to God. Other countries have refugee camps but Gambia does not know that. We had camps in Basse and they did courses in some skill centres. But today those camps are not existing." She said how would it feel if one runs away and leave his child in the forest, what would happen to the children?"
She said they thank the UNHCR, Red Cross Gafna and all those involved in refugee assistance including their hosts. She prayed that where the refugees come from peace will return there and they will return in peace. "WE pray that where ever there is war they will see peace, she said.
She further said that parliamentarians meet in South Africa every six months to discuss why so many wars in Africa? WE found out that men were responsible because of the thirst for power.
According to Musa the refugee leader asked for a minutes silence for those who have died in the war. "We are representing all refugees from Senegal in The Gambia. We thank the government, and all Gambians for their warm welcome. You have provided food, security, health, education and love. We thank you for that." He said they were thanking immigration for providing identity card for them as they move around now without hindrance. But was quick to say, "Some of our people do not have such documents so cannot easily move around. Gambia as a nation, UNHCR Red Cross, WFP, UNICEFF have contributed immensely to our joy. We are asking that food health education be provided for those in the Kombos. We are asking for assistance for micro credit to engage in some other activities to generate income," he said.
Musa further said, "We are asking UNHCR to help them to travel to other countries in the world wherever thy want to go. President Jammeh is our father and his wife our mother," he said.
"We are asking that we are giving the chance to see any organisation," he said. Musa asked all refugees to respect every body they meet.
Lamin Gassama talked about Red Cross, and how it started when their founder Henry assisted people dying in their blood and how he brought assistance to the needy. He said the help brought joy to a lot and joy to those who helped as they are doing. "From South, North, East and West we are all the same. Treat each other as one," he said.
A refugee praised Fatou Barry in an interview with the Point Newspaper who said, Fatou Barry has been their mother because she listens to them and goes with Red Cross at whatever time they are with them. "I have never seen an active and a self sacrificing lady like Fatou, may God elevate her and give her long life. She deserves to work with refugees because she knows what is happening and listens."
The celebration continued with dancing, eating and fun. Talking to Fatou Barry, the Protection Officer said it is joy to see refugees gather to celebrate in joy. Our hope is that they will find joy and solace in all they do and have the chance to return some day soon to see what they had been used to seeing. "I am happy we are making them realise that they belong."