5 December 2018

Guinea Bissau: Govt Naturalizes Senegalese Refugees

Senegalese refugees in Guinea-Bissau are getting identification cards after years — and, for some, decades — of living in a state of limbo.

Ibrahima Ingo has lived in Pelundo, near Guinea-Bissau's border with Senegal, since 1992 when he fled southern Senegal due to unrest in the country's Casamance region. Today marks the first time he will register to receive his national identification card as a Guinea-Bissau citizen.

He says the documents are important because they will allow him to move about the country freely without having to pay small bribes to the police — a tax often applied to foreigners.

This year, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, began registering the nearly 10,000 Senegalese refugees living in the country, after Guinea-Bissau announced it would grant citizenship to all Senegalese refugees within its borders.

Like Ibrahima, many of them arrived more than two decades ago.

Since 1982, waves of Senegalese have fled Casamance, the site of a low-intensity conflict between the government and the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces for Casamance.

UNHCR official Bigna Tona says that before becoming naturalized, the refugees had trouble moving around the country freely. The national ID cards also will enable them to acquire a passport for international travel.

Guinea-Bissau ranks as the 11th least-developed country on the U.N. development index.

Despite a lack of economic opportunities, Guinea-Bissau residents have been welcoming of their Senegalese neighbors, says Ingo. When he arrived, Pelundo residents gave him land he could use to grow cashews and earn an income.

Otcha Kamara, a resident of Pelundo, says he does not mind if the refugees stay as long as they follow the rules of the country. In addition, he says, the government should register all refugees who choose to stay in Guinea-Bissau.

Ami Diatta is one of 333 Senegalese refugees in Pelundo getting ID cards are on the same day.

She says that without paperwork, you're treated like a foreigner. But with the papers, she will have fewer problems.

That also means almost 27 years after Diatta fled her village, she will have the freedom to call Guinea-Bissau "home."

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