More than 1 000 Gambians, mostly women and children and the elderly, have fled to neighbouring Guinea Bissau in the past few days to seek refuge as the country faces an imminent ECOWAS military intervention, figures released by the Guinea-Bissau Refugee Commission show.
Reports also quoted the UNHCR as saying that several thousands Gambians had crossed into Senegal’s southern Casamance region ‘to be on the ‘safe side’ in case the country descends into war.
Analysts believe the number is likely to increase as the inauguration date of president-elect Adama Barrow draws near. Barrow is expected to be sworn-in on January 19 as Gambia’s democratically elected head of state to replace dictator Yahya Jammeh.
But Jammeh, in power since 1994, flatly told regional mediators on Friday that he would not budge until May, when the Supreme Court will hear his case about the disputed elections. He has also rejected a deal suggested by regional leaders to go into peaceful exile in Nigeria.
Regional leaders, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, defeated Ghana President John Mahama and Liberian President Sirleaf Ellen Johnson who flew in the capital Banjul on Friday to meet the dictator were reportedly disappointed about his refusal to step down.
This raises the prospect of a military intervention by ECOWAS troops, who are said to be on standby, to enter Gambia to push Jammeh out of power and make way for Barrow to officially become president.
Barrow – a former security guard and estate agent – is currently in Bamako, Mali, to attend the Francophonie summit and hold talks with France President François Hollande and his African counterparts about the Jammeh issue.
The African Union said this week that it would cease to recognise Jammeh as Gambia head of state from Janaury 19.
The political uncertainty is forcing people to cross the country’s borders every day to flee a potential escalation of the conflict.
“It is clear that the total number is far higher than a thousand and rising daily,” Tibna Sambe Na Wana, the national coordinator for Guinea-Bissau’s Refugee Commission told AFP.
“Women, children and the elderly made up the greatest numbers, with more than 500 passing one border post near the town of Jegue in three days.”
Photo: Outgoing Gambian President Yahya Jammeh