Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 16:20 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Gambia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Gambia, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 22 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

GMB figures


In 2007, Gambia hosted about 14,300 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire. Some 6,900 Senegalese, mainly from the southern Casamance region, fled periodic conflict between rebels and the Senegalese government over the last two decades, most recently in 2006 and 2007.

Most lived in some 50 villages along the border with relatives or Gambian families in the Foni areas in the west of the country.

Most of Gambia's roughly 6,500 Sierra Leonean and 800 Liberian refugees and asylum seekers fled protracted civil wars in their respective countries and lived in the capital Banjul, while some 950 lived in Basse. Although the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted in the small-scale repatriation of Liberian refugees, it also began encouraging Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees to settle in Gambia.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reported cases of refoulement or physical harm to refugees or asylum seekers in 2007.

Gambia was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol, but maintained reservations on its clauses providing exemptions for refugees from exceptional and provisional measures, the right to work, labor protection, social security, and administrative assistance. Gambia was also party to the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The country had no refugee law, but the Ministry of the Interior had a unit dedicated to screening asylum seekers for refugee status. UNHCR supported the Government's screening and monitored the process. Asylum seekers had no access to counsel.

Although the Government supported the creation of a refugee bill that would integrate provisions from international conventions and from national legislation addressing issues related to foreigners, it did not successfully implement a draft refugee bill because of high turnover in government personnel in 2007.

Detention/Access to Courts

Officials occasionally detained and harassed refugees, even when they possessed valid identification cards. Refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia were targets in particular, as officials reportedly believed they should repatriate because of improved security in their respective countries. Authorities usually released detained refugees following an intervention by UNHCR, the Gambia Immigration Department (GID), or the Gambia Food and Nutrition Association (GAFNA). UNHCR offered training on international refugee law to all security personnel in an attempt to prevent misunderstandings.

The Government allowed local and international human rights groups to monitor prisons, but permitted neither the International Committee of the Red Cross nor the media to meet with detainees during 2007. Gambia's Immigration Act allowed authorities to detain persons arriving without a passport for up to 48 hours if they could not adequately explain their lack of documentation.

In March, GID created a new Professional Standards Unit at its headquarters in Banjul to allow nationals and nonnationals to report abuse by immigration officers. Refugees' access to courts was equal to that of nationals.

Gambian authorities granted status to all refugees in the country prima facie and issued some 7,900 refugee identity cards. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment (ECOWAS Protocol) granted individuals from ECOWAS nations with passports and health certificates visa-free entry and legal stay for 90 days.

The annual fee for an ECOWAS residence permit to reside legally in Gambia, was 2,300 dalasis (about $127). Residence permits for non-ECOWAS nationals cost 1,800 Dalasis (about $81).

The 1996 Constitution guaranteed non-political rights, including the rights to life and personal liberty, on par with nationals, to all persons in Gambia legally, but there was no precedent for refugees using the courts to vindicate these rights.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Police occasionally stopped refugees for failing to carry their identity cards, but generally released them within a few hours following GID, UNHCR, or GAFNA intervention.

Gambia did not restrict the residence of refugees and there were no refugee camps.

For international travel documents, UNHCR drafted letters of recommendation to GID which issued Convention Travel Documents to applicants it deemed had valid reasons to travel outside the country. GID issued only one travel document in 2007.

The Constitution extended the rights to free movement, residence, and departure to "every person lawfully within The Gambia" but reserved the right to reenter to nationals.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Gambia allowed recognized refugees with government-issued refugee cards the right to work legally. The Interior Secretary, Ousman Sonko, said the Immigration Department recognized the contributions made by refugees to the national economy and was doing everything possible to provide refugees with identification cards and work permits. Asylum seekers and other foreigners without refugee cards had to obtain residence permits to work legally, although Gambia exempted Senegalese nationals from the residence permit requirement.

Refugees wishing to work in skilled trades had to pay 1,300 dalasis (about $72) to acquire work permits issued from GID. Gambia did not require work permits for unskilled positions, but the definitions of skilled and unskilled were unclear and law enforcement officials often demanded work permits from unskilled workers. Gambia did not allow permit holders to change employers or engage in other forms of employment, paid or unpaid, without prior approval of the Principal Immigration Office (PIO). Dependents of the primary permit holder could not work without PIO authorization.

Gambia maintained reservations on the 1951 Convention's rights to work and the protection of labor legislation, accepting refugees' exemption from restrictions only after four years, rather than three, and omitting any exemptions for refugees with spouses or children who were nationals. The protections of the Labor Law, including the right to join unions, applied to foreign workers as to Gambians, as long as they had work permits. Refugees could open bank accounts and there were no restrictions on refugees' rights to acquire and transfer movable or immovable property freely.

Public Relief and Education

There were no restrictions on aid to refugees. UNHCR continued to provide shelter and health and educational assistance to refugees. Most refugee children, except for Sierra Leoneans, had access to education through grade nine, sponsored by UNHCR and GAFNA. Vocational training was also available but limited by available funding. GAFNA also provided microcredit loans, material assistance for funerals and childbirth, health services, and recreational equipment. While the Constitution extended the right to education, including free primary instruction, to "all persons," a governmental program subsidizing tuition costs for Gambian girls did not apply to foreigners.

The Gambian Red Cross reported that the continuous movement of Senegalese refugees between the Casamance region and Gambia made it difficult to provide them with assistance. Foreigners, including refugees, had to pay higher fees for health services than did nationals.

The World Food Programme (WFP) provided food assistance to refugees since October 2006, and specifically provided Senegalese refugees and the local Gambian populations that hosted them, with emergency food aid. In October, Japan donated $100,000 to support WFP assistance to Senegalese refugees in Gambia. Taiwan provided food assistance at various points throughout the year to Senegalese refugees. UNHCR supplied emergency aid in the areas of food, water, shelter, health, sanitation, and later, donated seeds to fight food shortages among Senegalese refugees staying with Gambian hosts in the Fonis. The Association of Youth Against Malaria donated nearly 59,000 insecticide-treated nets to Gambian pregnant women and children, as well as to refugees in Banjul, Kanifing Municipality, and the western region. Various nongovernmental organizations assisted host communities with building latrines, providing food, and potable water.

Gambia's 2006 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) prepared for international donors mentioned refugees in reference to the challenges posed by conflict and natural disaster, particularly for refugee women and children. The PRSP also highlighted that the return of refugees to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal may have led in part to a decline in population growth. The PRSP proposed providing leadership skills and entrepreneurial training to women, including refugee women.

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