@StateDept Orders Evacuation of US Embassy Banjul Family Members From The #Gambia

Posted: 5:56 pm PT
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On Saturday, January 7, the State Department ordered the departure of family members of USG employees assigned to the US Embassy Banjul, in The Gambia. It also authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country. The evacuation order comes with the new Travel Warning urging U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to The Gambia because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future.  On January 7, 2017, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members and authorized the departure of all employees who need to accompany those individuals from the country.

The security situation in The Gambia remains uncertain following December 1, 2016 presidential elections.  On January 10, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the current president’s petition contesting the election results, which is a potential flashpoint that could lead to civil unrest.  The sitting government has begun taking restrictive measures, which include shutting down and restricting radio stations, and making politically motivated arrests.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has stated it may intervene if the president does not step down by January 18.

U.S. citizens should consider departing on commercial flights and other transportation options now, as airports and ferry terminals may close unexpectedly in the event of unrest.  All U.S. citizens should have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.  U.S. citizens should ensure that travel documents (passports and visas) are valid and up-to-date.  Consular services, already limited throughout the country due to very poor transportation infrastructure and security conditions, may be further limited, including in Banjul itself.

U.S. citizens who decide to remain in The Gambia should prepare for the possible deterioration of security:

  • Exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Stay home or at another safe location.
  • Have emergency supplies of food, water, and medications.
  • Let friends and family know that there might be communication disruptions.

Additional recommendations on emergency preparedness are available on the Travel.State.gov web page “What Can You Do in a Crisis Abroad?

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Ex-Security Guard #AdamaBarrow Defeats Gambian Dictator #YahyaJammeh

Posted: 4:04  pm ET
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US Embassy Banjul: Host Govt Unexpectedly Removes Police Protection in The Gambia

Posted: 12:43 am ET
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The US Embassy in Banjul issued a security message informing U.S. citizens in the Gambia that post will be closed on June 9 for non-essential services due to the removal of police protection by the host government.  The short message does not include the reason for the removal of police protection.  The U.S. recently granted asylum to a Gambian student previously funded by the Gambian government who publicly supports LGBT rights.

The Freedom Newspaper notes that this is not the first time that Yahya Jammeh, an army officer, who took power in a 1994 military coup has ordered the withdrawal of Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU) personnel from the US Embassy premises. He apparently issued a similar directive sometime last year. We have asked but have not received a response if/when post will suspend operation.

Here is an excerpt of the Embassy’s 2016 Crime and Safety report:

The Gambia’s President Yaya Jammeh came to power by a non-violent coup in July 1994. He was first elected president in an internationally-challenged election in 1996 and re-elected in 2001, 2006, and November 2011 to five-year terms. The next scheduled presidential election is December 1, 2016. Previous elections were considered credible despite numerous shortcomings.

In March 2006, the government thwarted a reported military-led coup attempt. The alleged coup attempt was put down without violence. Around 50 people were detained for their alleged roles in the coup plot; many detainees were released, with the remainder convicted and sentenced to life terms. The President continues to shuffle government leaders capriciously, reducing the likelihood of any single actor gaining too much political power.

In December 2014, there was an unsuccessful coup perpetrated by Gambian dissidents at the State House. As a result, The Gambian government arrested/detained/questioned countless individuals in an effort to locate conspirators and identify those perceived to be in opposition to the government. The resulting crackdown inspired fear in many Gambians. The government seized the opportunity to arrest those that have taken opposing views. It has even arrested family members (including young children) of coup plotters and is known to torture those in custody during interrogation.

Over the past several years, politically-motivated arrests have become more frequent and arbitrary, and the government has cracked down on the independent press and others who are seen as opposing the government.

It is illegal to speak out against President Jammeh. Apparently, it is even illegal to speak negatively to his photo.  Homosexuality is also illegal in The Gambia. “Consensual same-sex sexual relations are illegal in The Gambia. Prison terms can range from five years to life imprisonment, and there is strong societal discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals. The Criminal Code was amended in October 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled Aggravated Homosexuality, which sets out seven specific categories, including being “a serial offender,” for which a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.”

A couple of weeks ago, the State Department officially condemned the Gambian Government’s response to peaceful protests in the country.

 

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U.S. Embassy Banjul Suspends Consular Services Until Further Notice

Posted: 1:06 am EDT
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On March 2, the U.S. Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia announced the closure of its consular services (except for American Citizen Services) until further notice.

According to local media, visa applicants have been told by Embassy Banjul to schedule their appointments with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

For visa applicants, the US Embassy Banjul had this to say: “If your need for services is immediate, please schedule an appointment with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar.  Please note that the wait times for some appointments in Dakar exceed the amount of time that we expect to be closed. We appreciate your patience, and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”

We’ve reached out to the embassy but have not heard anything back. The embassy’s Twitter account @USEmbassyBanjul does not carry any detail of this announcement. Its FB page and website has the same announcement but contains no other details of the suspension of consular services  except that they’re hoping “to re-open appointments sometime around March 20, 2016 (though we cannot guarantee that date).”

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US Embassy Mali Imposes Curfew for Official Mission Personnel

On January 17, 2013, the US Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in country:

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako is issuing this message to inform U.S. citizens of an Embassy imposed curfew for official Embassy personnel.

As of January 17, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako is implementing a curfew on U.S. Embassy official personnel.  The curfew is in place because of increased police checkpoints and heightened tensions in Bamako.  While this Embassy curfew does not extend to private U.S. citizens, the U.S. Embassy encourages U.S. citizens in Bamako to avoid travelling late at night and to be prudent in choosing where to go.

The U.S. Embassy reminds all U.S. citizens of the risk of terrorist activity in Mali, including in Bamako, and advises U.S. citizens to be cautious during this period of increased tension.  Malian security forces have increased their security safeguards, including checkpoints and other controls on movement in Bamako and around the country.  Criminal elements could use the increased security checkpoints to pose as legitimate police officers, so please use caution.  We urge all U.S. citizens in Mali to remain vigilant and prudent when choosing to move about the city.  Also, we suggest you avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.

The escalating conflict is reflected on the emergency messages coming out of US Embassy Bamako.  Note that the recently issued Mali Travel Warning dated January 10, 2013 has now been replaced with a new one dated January 16, 2012

In the meantime, the US Embassies in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Banjul (The Gambia) and Niamey (Niger) have all issued emergency messages warning U.S. citizens “to remain vigilant in light of recent events in neighboring Mali and the potential for retaliatory actions towards Westerners in general within the region.”