Senegal may see itself dealing with a refugee crisis if President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia fails to step down next week at the end of his term.
An alarming number of Gambians and foreign nationals are leaving the Gambia amid fear of violence and ECOWAS military intervention as the country’s political situation deteriorates.
In Kudang and Ambadali, people with some of their few belongings are crossing into northern Senegal. The influx they say is high and the rural-urban drift has taken a different dimension with many families finding their way to provincial Gambia.
ECOWAS has expressed deep concerns about the looming refugee crisis and its leaders are due in Banjul on Wednesday in a final diplomatic push for Mr. Jammeh to step down and hand over power peacefully.
Europe is already seeing a high number of Gambian asylum seekers who have crossed the Mediterranean. The Gambia as the third largest arrivals by sea, proportionally.
Over 13,000 Gambians, almost half of the population of country’s capital Banjul, between the ages of 14 to 34 have sought asylum in Europe in 2016,
There are at least 10,000 Gambians living in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. Dakar is home to the largest community of Gambian refugees – mostly former military officers, journalists, activists and political opponents.
Senegal already has a low-level conflict in its southern region of Casamance, where separatists rebels are fighting to annex the region from Senegal and build their own sovereign state.
President Yahya Jammeh is said to be associated with a faction of the MFDC rebels supplying them with arms, money, and logistics.
Rebels, however, have refused to join Jammeh loyalists in the army to thwart an international bid to enforce the outcome of last month’s polls in which Jammeh lost to businessman Adama Barrow.
The Casamance conflict has its own minor refugee crisis with many living in the Gambia’s West Coast Region. It will force the Casamance refugees to seek refuge in northern Senegal and in the two West African Guinea’s – Bissau and Conakry – in addition to the thousands of Gambians that would be fleeing.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Writing and Editing by Sainey MK Marenah)