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Home Technology 45,000 Flee Gambia as Standoff Over Presidency Drags On

45,000 Flee Gambia as Standoff Over Presidency Drags On


DAKAR, Senegal — About 45,000 people have fled Gambia as a tense standoff over the presidency drags on, prompting fears of a humanitarian crisis along the border with Senegal, where many are cramming into host homes and food is running low.

A majority of those seeking refuge are children fleeing with their families, according to a statement on Friday from the United Nations, which plans to begin food delivery soon.

“The next few days will be critical and more people may leave the country if the current situation is not resolved peacefully soon,” the statement said.

Gambia was at an anxious standstill, with foreign military vehicles inside its borders and the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania arriving at the State House in Banjul, the capital, where the Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh was holed up.

They were part of a final effort to persuade Mr. Jammeh to leave without a battle: Foreign troops entered the country on Thursday as part of a broader international push to persuade Mr. Jammeh to hand over control to Adama Barrow, the newly elected president.

On Friday, Mr. Barrow, a real-estate agent who not long ago was a low-level opposition party member, was still in Senegal, after having been sworn in on Thursday at a quickly organized ceremony inside the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, hundreds of miles from his home country.

Mr. Barrow is among those who have fled Gambia because of security concerns. Mr. Jammeh, who has said he will rule for a billion years, has promised to marshal his troops if an international coalition of forces intervenes.

Mr. Jammeh initially conceded the race, before he suddenly called into question the election results. He is demanding a new vote and has appealed to the Supreme Court, and he persuaded Parliament to pass a measure extending his term for three months.

The Supreme Court did not have enough judges to hear his case because he had fired most of them and had not replaced them, and the international community considers the parliamentary measure to be invalid.

Mr. Jammeh is under tremendous pressure to leave. The African Union no longer recognizes him as president. The United Nations Security Council supports Mr. Barrow. The international military coalition that entered his country was assembled by the Economic Community of West African States.

A spokesman for Mr. Barrow said that if talks were productive and Mr. Jammeh stepped down, Mr. Barrow could travel to the border to be escorted across by Gambian military forces. The question of whether the military remains loyal to Mr. Jammeh has loomed over the nation, adding to the tension.

Mr. Jammeh has ruled Gambia since a coup in 1994. His regime has been criticized for gross violations of human rights. He jailed opponents and journalists, some of whom died in prison. He talked of decapitating homosexuals.

An unpredictable president, he once claimed that he could cure AIDS with herbs, prayers and a banana, and he has carried out literal witch hunts, combing the countryside for suspects and forcing them to drink a hallucinogenic potion.

As a result, thousands of people fled long before the recent presidential standoff, with many heading to Senegal, which borders Gambia on three sides. The recent flood of people into Senegal represents a significant portion of the tiny population of Gambia, which has about two million people.

Some of the Gambian diaspora turned out for Mr. Barrow’s inauguration on Thursday, streaming into the sandy streets outside the Gambian Embassy in Dakar. Some, including journalists who say they are too scared to work in their home country, wore T-shirts with #GambiaHasDecided printed on them.

Isatou Dumbuya, owner of a spare parts shop in Gambia, fled to Senegal on Sunday when it became clear that Mr. Jammeh had no immediate plans to step aside.

She was lucky: Her daughter goes to college in Dakar, and she and her children can stay at an apartment in the city until the situation calms down. But driving across the border, she said, she saw throngs of people fleeing — “My brothers and sisters,” she said.

Ms. Dumbuya voted for Mr. Barrow, and she showed up outside the Embassy during his inauguration hoping that her presence and that of other supporters would demonstrate that he must be accountable once he takes over.

For now, though, she worries about her children missing school and hopes to return soon to a changed Gambia.

“When we go back home, we go back home as heroes,” she said.


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