Growing insecurity in Guinea Bissau, following the recent military coup d’état, has left foreign nationals extremely concerned. Some are pushed to find refuge in southern Senegal.
By Khalil Dième, Ziguinchor
Since Monday, bus stations in Senegal’s Ziguinchor region have been filled by scores of foreign nationals. Mostly from West Africa and Asia, these travellers want to get away from Guinea Bissau by any means possible.
According to Senegalese border police, close to 600 people have entered into Senegal since Tuesday. More than half are believed to be of Senegalese nationality.
Leaving Guinea Bissau
“On Saturday night, two soldiers came into my residence and took the three million CFA francs I had with me,” recounts a 26-year-old Pakistani shop owner who managed to leave Guinea Bissau.
Ibrahim Touré, an Ivorian construction entrepreneur, describes how he wanted to escape the impact of sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States. “ECOWAS will not reconsider its decision and I know that the military junta will stop at nothing to reach its goals. This country is potentially facing international isolation,” he says.
Crossing the border was French tourist François Picard’s only choice. “Because there are no direct flights from other countries to Europe, I decided to go via the city of Ziguinchor, with hopes of catching a European flight in Senegal,” he says. “I intend to come back when things return to normal.”
Blocks in Senegal
For the past week, traffic has been blocked on the road linking Casamance to Guinea Bissau. In the city of Ziguinchor, an important trading post for food and construction materials, store owners have quit supplying their embattled neighbour.
“We’ve decided to stop exports because of the hassles on the road,” says one businesswoman. “The number of roadblocks has doubled since Monday, and there are too many taxes to pay.”
Reinforced border security
According to an officer in the Senegalese Army communications department (DIRPA), “There is a heavy presence of Senegalese soldiers along the border with Guinea Bissau.”
Last Sunday military authorities in Guinea Bissau closed the country’s maritime borders and airspace to preclude foreign intervention after the coup. This comes just a couple weeks before the second round of presidential elections on 29 April.