Banjul area Head Office
The Gambia, West Africa
Tel no: 4464307 (refugee center)
United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees
programme in the Gambia started along with the rising
civil conflicts in West Africa.
The number of refugees has risen and fallen over
the years, yet what did not change was the fact that
the Gambia was seen as an attractive alternative for
people fleeing their country of origin due to increasing
conflict. In 2005 it received 7,330 refugees and 602
asylum-seekers with the vast number coming from Sierra
Leone. UNHCR closed its liaison office (LO) in December
2001 because of budget cuts, altered priorities, and
the desire to shift responsibility for the programme
directly to the implementing partners.
Following the closure of bureau in Gambia, BO Dakar
in Senegal assumed responsibility for management and
oversight of all activities related either to the protection
of or assistance to the refugee population in the Gambia.
The supervision by BO Dakar was said to allow for a
more regional focus, harmonizing approaches and procedures
with countries hosting the same populations of refugees.
12 BO Dakar continued to work with the established “troika”
of partner organizations in the Gambia. The idea was
to promote co-operation and accountability as well as
build capacity, without the high financial costs associated
with the presence of an in country office. This framework
was maintained until early 2003 when the decision to
reinstate LO Gambia was taken, resulting in LO Gambia
being reopened in May 2003.
Anglican Mission Development Ministry (AMDM) is a faith-based
organization implementing three projects: assistance
to Sierra Leonean refugees in Basse refugee camp; a
Primary/Vocational Education Programme: and an Urban
Refugee Programme in Banjul. Prior to involvement with
UNHCR, AMDM was involved in refugee-related issues through
their programme for the “church of the stranger”, which
took a holistic and advocacy approach on behalf of all
With its head office based in Banjul it receives approximately
75% of its funding from UNHCR. The remaining portion
of funding comes from the World Council of Churches,
a consortium of churches known worldwide for focusing
on helping uprooted people.
In general, the Gambian Government has adopted a policy
whereby they allow for the refugees to enter the country
and wait for a durable solution to their plight. The
1951 Convention and the 1967 protocol and the 1969 OAU
Convention govern these practices.9 As a member state
of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)10,
the Gambia abides by laws that grant economic rights,
or the right to work, to nationals of other ECOWAS states.
However, in order to move freely and work, refugees
must possess a residence permit. The law requiring work
permits that applies to the refugees is the same law
that is applied to all non-Gambians who seek employment
in the Gambia.
The exact number of refugees residing in the Gambia
is not known. The main reason is that the large urban
population is largely unaccounted for. Another reason
is the permeability of the Gambia – Senegal border (near
the Casamance region) where thousands of asylum-seekers
are said to be living in fear of claiming refugee status.
UNHCR estimates that there are approximately 12,000
refugees living throughout the Gambia.7 Other sources
give estimates ranging from 10,000 to over 30,000 persons.
The refugee population consists of Sierra Leoneans who
are in the majority, Senegalese who are the second highest
in number, Liberians, Somalis, Ethiopians, Rwandans,
Iraqis and Eritrean, the latter five groups being a
very small portion of the population. The major influx
of refugees began in 1982 with the rising conflicts
in West Africa, especially in the Casamance region.
This area has been the scene of clashes between the
government and separatist rebels. Fighting in Sierra
Leone and most recently Liberia has also significantly
contributed to the rise in the refugee population.
The situation and sentiments of refugees, UNHCR and
its implementing partners suggest that the livelihood
security of refugees living in the Gambia is being threatened
in both urban and rural refugee settings. A shift in
emphasis from care and maintenance to self-reliance
would make refugee livelihoods more secure. As the Gambia
abides by the Geneva Conventions and continues to pursue
durable solutions for the rising number of refugees,
UNHCR has an increased role to play in assisting them.
The country ratified the:
Convention on 07 Sep 1966
Protocol on 29 Sep 1967