The Gambia, a classic winter sun destination on the West African coast, is in the midst of a power struggle, while outgoing President Yahya Jammeh stubbornly refuses to give up his seat to the President-elect Adama Barrow.
The deadline for transition has passed and military action is threatened, causing the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to urge all British citizens to leave the country – with nightmare scenes at the airport in the country’s capital Banjul, as people try and get flights home.
If you’re booked to go on a package holiday to Gambia or were considering booking, here’s what you need to know.
The British Government
The latest advice from the FCO is as follows:
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to the city of Banjul. This is the area on Banjul Island around State House, a potential flashpoint in the event of a military intervention. This is well away from the tourist areas.
“The FCO also advise against all but essential travel to The Gambia as a whole (including Banjul airport) due to ongoing political uncertainty and potential military intervention following the Presidential elections on 1 December 2016. If you’re currently in The Gambia you should leave by commercial means if you have no essential need to remain. Contact your airline or travel company for more information about departure options.
“The incumbent President, Yahya Jammeh, continues to contest the election results at the Supreme Court, while the President elect, Mr. Adama Barrow, has left the country. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has stated it may intervene, including possible military action, if President Jammeh doesn’t step down on the scheduled handover date of 18/19 January 2017.
“This has led to intransigence on the part of the sitting government, resulting in reports that it has started to take restrictive measures, including shutting down opposition radio stations and making politically motivated arrests. The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high and could result in Banjul International Airport being closed at short notice.
“You should follow events closely, take extra care, keep in regular contact with your tour operator and airline and continue to monitor travel advice and social media updates in case tensions rise as the current political deadlock continues. Avoid large crowds and avoid discussing politically sensitive topics in public.”
The travel industry body
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says: “ABTA estimates there are around 2,000 people currently on holiday with its members in The Gambia; additionally there will be people who have travelled there independently either for a holiday or to visit friends and family.
“Package holidaymakers in The Gambia are advised to contact their tour operator to confirm arrangements for returning home. Those who have travelled independently will need to contact their airline to discuss their options. Tour operators will not send out any further package holidaymakers to the Gambia while the FCO advice remains in place.
“Independent travellers should be aware that travelling to The Gambia at this time will invalidate their UK travel insurance policies. Insurance policies will still provide cover for travellers already in a country at the time of a Foreign Office advice change.
“Package holidaymakers due to travel imminently to The Gambia are advised to contact their tour operator to discuss the options of changing their date of travel, receiving a full refund or booking an alternative holiday. Independent travellers should talk to their airlines and accommodation providers, although there is no obligation on either to offer the same options as a tour operator.
“The political situation remains fluid and the FCO travel advice will reflect this. Travel companies will continue to monitor the situation and allow cancellations and rebooking for travel dates while the advice against all but essential travel remains in place.”
The tourist board
Adboulie Hydara, director general of Gambia Tourism Board, says: “We are monitoring the political situation and are working closely with our UK tour operator partners to support them in returning customers to the UK. All holidaymakers with independent flight bookings are advised to contact their flight provider to discuss travel options.
“For those with future bookings to the Gambia, we advise that they speak to their holiday provider to change their date of travel. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and share updated advice accordingly. As a popular winter sun destination among British holidaymakers, the safety of our visitors is of the upmost importance and we look forward to continuing to welcome them once the situation has been fully resolved.”
The holiday provider
Serenity Holidays (trading as The Gambia Experience), gave the following statement: “Following the disputed Presidential elections in The Gambia there is an ongoing political impasse and the FCO travel advice page for The Gambia has been amended to advise against all but essential travel to The Gambia.
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers is of paramount importance to us. As such, we initiated our repatriation plan as soon as the FCO advice came into effect. Our repatriation efforts are well underway, with a final flight back to Gatwick airport on Friday, January 20.
“Our experienced team in resort, assisted by our UK managing director (currently in The Gambia), are in constant contact with the remaining customers. Our UK office is handling enquiries from customers booked to travel in the future. Details of our amendment and cancellation policy are available at www.gambia.co.uk/faq
"We wish to express our thanks to all our customers for their patience and understanding whilst we manage our repatriation programme.”
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