Gambia hosted about 10,000 refugees at the end of 2002, including some 5,000 from Senegal and 5,000 from Sierra Leone. At least 5,000 new Senegalese refugees fled to Gambia during the year, but many of them repatriated a few weeks or months later.
Refugees from Senegal
Waves of refugees have fled from Senegal to Gambia during the past decade to escape violence linked to an armed insurgency in southern Senegal.
Most Senegalese refugees usually have returned home rapidly when violence subsides, but several thousand have remained in Gambia on a regular basis.
Some 1,000 to 2,000 new refugees fled to the Gambian capital, Banjul, when violence flared in southern Senegal in May 2002. A second influx occurred in June, when 2,000 or more Senegalese fled to central Gambia.
It is possible that several thousand additional new Senegalese refugees fled temporarily to Gambia but remained uncounted after moving into the homes of friends and relatives along the border.
New refugees near Banjul found shelter at a school and immigration center, while new arrivals in central Gambia settled into two dozen villages. "This new major refugee influx constitutes yet another burden on the resources of the impoverished Gambian population along the border, as most of the refugees came without food or other resources," reported two relief organizations on the scene, Concern Universal and the Gambian Red Cross.
The Gambian government provided limited amounts of rice, onions, oil, and sugar to feed the new refugee population. Relief workers called for donations of food, blankets, and mosquito nets as well.
About 90 percent of the new arrivals were women and children, according to the World Food Program.
Although most communities displayed generosity toward the refugee population, Gambian officials worried that Senegal's violence might spill into Gambia.
A Senegalese government plane inadvertently bombed a Gambian border village in May. "The presence of the ... refugees poses security problems for all villages along the border," a Gambian government official stated.
As in previous years, many refugees quickly returned home when security improved in Senegal.
Refugees from Sierra Leone
Civil war in Sierra Leone pushed about 10,000 refugees into Gambia during the 1990s. Some refugees repatriated during 2001–2002 as peace returned to Sierra Leone.
The vast majority of Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in Gambia lived in villages and in Banjul, where they generally supported themselves without humanitarian assistance.
Up to 1,000 refugees lived in two small camps, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees provided food, water, health care, educational assistance, agricultural help, and training in income-generating projects.
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