Save the Children, an international charity organization has raised an alarm that hospitals, schools and other public services in Gambia and neighbouring Senegal risk being overwhelmed as tens of thousands of children flee their homes fearing political violence.
A statement by the organisation made available to icirnigeria.org by the Media Coordinator of Save the Children Nigeria, James Bigila, said staff of the organisation in The Gambia and Senegal have warned of a humanitarian emergency on both sides of the border should fighting spread.
According to the statement, the United Nations estimates that up to 50,000 people, mostly children and women, have already left urban centres in The Gambia – with some headed to villages in other parts of the country and an estimated half crossing the border into neighbouring Senegal.
“These children are largely fleeing to parts of both Gambia and Senegal where public services such as health facilities and schools are already under a great deal of strain,” said Save the Children’s Senegal Country Director Bonzi Mathurin.
The group said the latest government figures suggest that close to 26,000 people have crossed into Senegal from Gambia since the election, increasing the pressure on local communities.
“Migration between Gambia and Senegal has always been relatively fluid because often people have family members on both sides of the border,” Mathurin added.
“However, any sudden mass movement of people would simply overwhelm public services which are already struggling and raise the possibility of a humanitarian emergency.
“During any mass displacement of people children are incredibly vulnerable because they lose the protective environment of schools, family and community. There are increased risks of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriage. They are also more susceptible to life-threatening diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria when health facilities are not functioning as they should. Therefore we must ensure that all children have access to basic services throughout this difficult period,” Mathurin said.
According to Save the Children, health facilities in Gambia are still operating but the majority of foreign doctors have left the country, increasing the strain on public medical facilities.
The Gambia Medical and Dental Association says the country’s health care system would be unable to cope with any outbreak of violence.
Tensions in Gambia come towards the beginning of a year in which the incoming United Nations Secretary General asked citizens, governments and leaders to strive to overcome their differences and put peace above all else.
Save the Children noted that some schools in Gambia due to have reopened on 9th January remain closed and many parents are too afraid to allow their children to attend those that remain open.
The charity organisation, however, pointed out that many schools are also advising parents to keep their children at home until further notice as a number of Gambian children have enrolled in Senegalese schools but will be required to learn in French instead of the English spoken in Gambian schools.