Refugees International Japan visits refugee communities around the world on a regular basis so that we can see at first hand the kind of impact your donations have. We are used to hearing bad news from countries affected by war. However, the people we meet, who are doing their best for their families and their communities, always impress our teams. Their resilience is amazing. The programs we fund help them to rebuild their lives and prepare for the return home.
VISIT REPORT – Senegambia
The Senegambia region covers Gambia and the southern region of Senegal, known as Casamance. Refugees International Japan visited the Senegambia region in 2003, so this was an opportunity to review the progress of projects and assess the changes over the last 6 years. The civil conflict in the Casamance region of southern Senegal is West Africa’s longest running civil war. It has not received much international attention. The security situation fluctuates as does refugee flow. RIJ has been funding projects in the region through Concern Universal who work closely with community groups.
The separatist rebellion in the Casamance region has been ongoing for 27years. In that time and estimated 3,000-5,000 people have died and at least 60,000 have been displaced.
Refugees flow backwards and forwards across the border into Gambia as conditions fluctuate.
Deteriorating security conditions caused many families to flee the area in August 2006, forcing them to abandon their still-maturing crops, and rely on support from refugee-hosting communities in the middle of the hungry season. In the last two years up to now a high number of refugees have voluntarily returned to their home communities.
At present (2009) there are around 7,000 registered refugees in Gambia, but there are many more who have chosen not to register, mostly so that they can integrate quietly into the Gambian community and/or because they are living with relatives.
There was a lot of pressure on host families to provide and care for the refugees. Previous funding from RIJ for projects such as seed distribution to host families, training in community activities and market gardening have gone some way to creating more cohesive communities and easing the pressure of hosting refugees. On my previous visit I saw a lot of schools made of grass and matting to accommodate refugee children. These have mostly gone and the children have been integrated into host schools.
Access to water is a problem that most people mentioned. Concern Universal initiated the SMILE project some years ago – RIJ funded an early SMILE project. These projects install rope pumps that are easy to use and easy to repair, thus ensuring the community can take responsibility for pump maintenance themselves.