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The Gambia 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Gambia, The; Africa > Gambia, The > Banjul

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses The Gambia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise increased caution in the southern border area with the Casamance region of Senegal due to landmines. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Banjul does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s The Gambia-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is considerable risk from crime in Banjul. As tourism is one of The Gambia's most important industries, the government puts great effort in providing for the safety/security of visitors. This effort is mainly visible in heavily trafficked tourist areas. Officially, Gambian police attribute much of the criminal activity to third-country nationals. Poor economic growth and food insecurity have also contributed to the rise in crime rates. A wide range of criminal activity occurs in Banjul, especially after dark.

Criminals often target victims based on perceived affluence or perceived vulnerability. If a criminal threatens you with violence over money/belongings, comply with demands and attempt to end the confrontation as quickly as possible.

Crimes of opportunity (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft of valuables from vehicles, assault, and residential burglary) are the most frequently encountered crimes by U.S. citizens, and are often preventable. Violent crime is rare.

Burglaries are common. Over the past few years, reports of residential crimes have increased.

Do not go to beaches after dark. Westerners walking along the beach or in the Senegambia tourist area are often approached by vendors, colloquially referred to as “bumsters” (local young men offering services ranging from tour guide to sexual partner) or by common street criminals looking for a potential victim. Change direction or depart the area if you notice suspicious people, groups, or activity.

Credit/ATM card fraud and related scams remain concerns in Banjul, although the issue is less prevalent than in other West African cities. Major hotels accept credit cards, but few other establishments do. Skimming is the primary means of credit fraud, and is often undetected until fraudulent charges appear on statements. The U.S. Embassy recommends that its employees avoid using credit/debit cards. If you must use a credit/debit card, monitor accounts closely for fraud. Exchange foreign currency only in authorized banks, hotels, and other legally authorized outlets; obtain proper receipts for the transactions. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is not a major concern in Banjul. Use of computers and level of sophistication with computing technologies is generally low among the local population. Still, U.S. private-sector employees and organizations should implement cybersecurity best practices and make every attempt to password protect personal and organizational information systems.

Other Areas of Concern

Exercise increased caution in the border region between Senegal and The Gambia; do not to stray into Casamance, the southwestern region of Senegal between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, because of separatist violence and armed banditry. There is an ongoing, simmering separatist conflict in the Casamance. While separatist militants primarily target military installations, convoys, and personnel in an attempt to destabilize the region, civilians living and traveling in the Casamance have been targets of opportunity for separatist fighters and criminal elements (some of whom may be rebel-supported). Armed banditry remains a concern, particularly in rural areas and for travelers transiting by road – including along routes running through the Casamance region to The Gambia.

Although the frequency of separatist attacks has diminished since a de facto ceasefire in 2012, violent incidents still occur.

  • In January 2018, 14 people died in an attack on villagers in a forested area south of Ziguinchor. The attack remains under investigation, but appears related to criminal activity.
  • In a separate incident in January 2018, criminals robbed Spanish tourists traveling by road in the northwest region of Casamance at gunpoint, reportedly sexually assaulting the female travelers.
  • Criminals attacked a team of Senegalese topographers working in the Bounkiling area in 2017.

 

Due to security concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Dakar reviews and approves all personnel travel to the Ziguinchor and Sédhiou administrative areas within the Casamance. In addition, the Senegalese government requires notification of official travel to the region. Senegal does not require U.S. citizens to have a visa for trips shorter than 90 days in duration. Confirm updated visa requirements with the Senegalese Embassy before travel into Senegal. Vehicle and luggage searches are uncommon when crossing the border, but may occur based on the current security climate.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Vehicle accidents are the most prevalent danger posed to U.S. travelers in Banjul. Risk of vehicle accidents increases at night. Poor traffic markers, limited lighting, poor road conditions – especially during the rainy season, which leads to flooding – and pedestrians walking in the road alongside vehicles are the norm. Road conditions outside of Banjul can be even more dangerous. The Embassy prohibits official travel between cities by road at night due to lack of paved roads and limited local emergency services.

Drivers in The Gambia are aggressive, unpredictable, and untrained; in addition, their vehicles may be in poor working condition. Drunk driving accidents occur regularly, particularly during late-night hours as bars and nightclubs often stay open until 5 or 6am.

Police checkpoints occur at random, particularly in tourist areas; these have occurred with less frequency under The Gambia’s current administration than in the past. Authorities may require travelers to produce identification at checkpoints. Military checkpoints at land and regional borders and at other locations are common throughout the country; however, these rarely delay or otherwise impede travelers. Though these checkpoints are less common and less intrusive under the current government, always stop at them, present requested documents, and submit to the vehicle search if ordered.

Entering and leaving The Gambia by land is relatively easy.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Best Practices for Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation

Taxis and buses are often in poor condition and lack working brake lights and seat belts. Taxi and bus drivers may make sudden maneuvers without signaling. Travelers should use taxis rather than public transportation due to safety concerns, and should not allow anyone on the street to direct them into a taxi. Make taxi arrangements in advance and through your hotel, if possible. Avoid sharing taxis with strangers due to increased risk of theft and robbery.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

There is one commercial airport in The Gambia, Yundum International (BJL). Airport security operations are similar to those found in most other countries, but generally less stringent than in the U.S. The few large international carriers that service The Gambia run mostly on time, but smaller regional carriers are routinely late and cancel flights frequently.

Other Travel Conditions

There are two ferry crossings across the Gambia River, at Banjul and Farafenni. The ferry crossing in Banjul is relatively reliable, but may be prone to long delays if one of the three boats is not running. Delays have become more common due to the buildup of silt, which prevents the ferries from operating during low tide. Ferries are routinely overcrowded and filled to capacity with vehicles and pedestrians. Although the Farafenni crossing is smaller and located about three hours’ drive away from Banjul, it may take less time to cross, because the river is much narrower there. Avoid the use of small fishing boats and pirogues to cross the river due to the high rate of accidents and poor safety conditions.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats and Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Banjul. There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations, The Gambia is not a known base of support for terrorists, and Gambians generally do not sympathize with terrorists or their activities.

Regional terror attacks in West Africa have not directly affected The Gambia. However, there exists a real and growing threat of terrorism regionally, as demonstrated by seven attacks on locations frequented by foreigners in West African cities between 2015 and early 2018. West African countries remain vulnerable to terrorist activities and attacks due to porous borders, regional instability, and the presence of African-based terrorist groups, including those associated with al-Qa’ida and ISIS, in West Africa. The governments of The Gambia and Senegal each arrested “extremist” religious leaders in 2015 in an attempt to stem the rise of religious extremism in the area.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The Gambia’s President, Adama Barrow took office in 2016 in an election widely considered free and fair. Former President Yahya Jammeh, an autocrat who ruled the country for 22 years, initially accepted the results but then reneged, setting off a chain of events that led to his unceremonious departure from the country in January 2017, under threat of ECOWAS military intervention. Although Jammeh is out of power, many of his supporters remain; there have been sporadic clashes between them and rival political parties, as well as police. The Gambia has a history of military coups and coup attempts (1994, 2006, and 2014). While the Jammeh government inspired a state of fear because of its heavy-handed tactics to silence opponents, the Barrow administration has been more democratic, and has upheld values more consistent with international norms.

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Banjul. Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes have become more common, as Gambians no longer fear government retaliation or persecution. Avoid large political rallies, as even peaceful gatherings can escalate to confrontation and turn violent.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the rainy season (June-October), Banjul experiences significant flooding. Roadways and side streets are often impassable for short periods. Consider driving four-wheel drive vehicles.

Economic Concerns

Pirated movies and merchandise are readily available on the street for purchase.

Personal Identity Concerns

Consensual, same-sex sexual relations are illegal in The Gambia. Prison terms can range from five years to life. There is strong societal discrimination against LGBT individuals. The Criminal Code was amended in 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled, “Aggravated Homosexuality,” which sets out seven specific categories of offenses, including being “a serial offender,” for which a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.” Authorities have reportedly arrested a number of people have under this law. Former President Jammeh frequently used violent, threatening public rhetoric to discourage foreign LGBTI individuals from traveling to The Gambia, and participated in public protests against LGBTI rights. Although the Barrow government has not actively enforced existing laws against homosexuality, it has not taken any steps to change discriminatory laws.

Drug-related Crimes

As a coastal country, The Gambia serves as an access/transit point for drugs into/through Africa; however, there have been few reports of drug-related crimes. Demand for illegal drugs increases during the tourist season due to the influx of travelers; drug peddlers thrive in tourist areas. Refrain from engaging drug peddlers in any conversation and do not purchase, possess, or use illegal drugs while in The Gambia.

Several large drug seizures over the past few years highlight The Gambia’s coordinated anti-drug campaign. Authorities arrest and prosecute those found with drugs in their possession. Foreigners arrested for drug violations can expect prosecution; if convicted, they face a minimum of two years in prison.

Police Response

Except for checkpoints and traffic police, there is limited visibility of police presence in Banjul and the surrounding areas. Police do not have the ability to respond quickly to crises. Police lack training, equipment, and resources, such as radios and vehicles (with fuel). The vast majority of Gambian police are not armed. The Gambian Police Force is a reactionary force and cannot maintain large-scale or long-term proactive operations. When contacted, police are normally helpful to visitors, and sometimes will request “tea money” or a tip.

  • Do not take any photographs or videotapes of government facilities, personnel in uniform, or airports. It is against Gambian law to take pictures or videotape embassies, including the U.S. Embassy. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.
  • The Gambia has strict laws regarding the use and possession of dangerous weapons. “Military style” firearms are illegal. The police can license hunting weapons. Violators are subject to arrest and incarceration.

 

Do not ignore a lawful or reasonable police orders.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In the event of an emergency or arrest, you may request to call the U.S. Embassy. Local police do not always honor this request expeditiously; it may need repeating. Becoming belligerent will only exacerbate the situation and prolong detention.

Crime Victim Assistance

The national police emergency number (equivalent to U.S. 911) is 117. Response times are not always fast.

Senegambia Police Station (Tourist Security) – (220) 358-1502

Bakau Police Station – (220) 449-5328

Gambia National Police Headquarters – (220) 422-4914 (or dial 117)

For fire and rescue services in Banjul, dial 118; however, emergency services are unreliable, slow, and ill-equipped to handle most emergencies.

Some U.S. citizens report that police procedures appear to be less sensitive and responsive to a victim’s concerns, particularly in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, or when the victim and the perpetrator are foreigners, compared to the procedures in the U.S. Few victim assistance resources or battered women’s shelters exist. Investigations of sexual assault crimes often proceed without female police officers present, and police typically ask about the victim’s sexual history and previous relationships.

Police/Security Agencies

The Gambian Police Force (GPF) is responsible for investigating most crimes. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency of the Gambia (NDLEAG) enforces drug laws. The Gambian Armed Forces may assist in maintaining law and order when there is a deteriorating security situation beyond the control of the police. The Immigration Department and Customs Enforcement Office handle immigrations and customs issues respectively.

Medical Emergencies

Health facilities do not meet Western standards and are inadequate for most serious conditions. Emergency medical assistance is limited. Local facilities often suffer from unsanitary conditions, outdated equipment, and shortages of supplies/medications. There is a shortage of adequately trained physicians and other qualified medical personnel. Some hospitals have ambulance services, but these are uncommon, unreliable, and primarily consist of transportation to a medical facility; they typically do not arrive with medically trained personnel aboard. Psychiatric services and medications are very limited, as well.

Carry your own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Many prescription drugs are available locally, but the drugs are often counterfeit and not easily discernable from genuine drugs. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medications.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance webpage.

Available Air Ambulance Services

There are no international medical evacuation (medevac) companies based in The Gambia.

Recommended Insurance Measures

Westerners experiencing a serious medical condition will often require a medevac after stabilization to a location where adequate medical attention is available. Medevac services are very expensive, and generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay for the service in advance. The cost for medical evacuation may range from U.S. $40,000 to $200,000.

Vaccination and Health Guidance

The Government of The Gambia requires proof of yellow fever vaccination for entry.

The Gambia has a moderate prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions.

Malaria prevalence is low (less than 1%) but still exists. Travelers should arrive with prophylaxis.

While there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in The Gambia, the government has established a hotline for Ebola-related inquiries: 1025.

Even in urban areas, dogs may have rabies. Immediately clean bites/scratches from dogs, bats, or other mammals with soap and water, and seek medical evaluation to determine if you require additional immunization. All travelers staying for more than four weeks or who will travel to remote, rural areas or expect animal exposure should receive rabies vaccination. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, When Wildlife Attacks.

Tuberculosis is a serious health concern.

Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers, even in large cities and luxury accommodations. Travelers can diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous hand washing and use of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest risk of traveler’s diarrhea comes from contaminated food. Eat only food that is cooked and served hot. Eat raw fruits and vegetables only if you have washed them in clean water or peeled them. Drink only beverages from factory-sealed containers. Most restaurants in tourist areas and Western hotels follow adequate food preparation procedures and use filtered ice. Talk to your doctor about short-course antibiotics in case of infection and medications to manage diarrhea while traveling. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, I'm Drinking What in My Water?

Update all routine U.S. immunizations (i.e. measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, Hepatitis A, and tetanus) prior to arrival; these illnesses are more common in Africa than in the U.S.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for The Gambia.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no OSAC Country Council in The Gambia. The nearest OSAC Country Council is in Dakar, Senegal. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Banjul: Kairaba Avenue, Fajara

Business hours: Monday-Thursday: 0800-1730; Friday: 0800-1200

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers:

Switchboard: +220-439-2856 or 220-439-2858

Website: http://gm.usembassy.gov

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling and residing in The Gambia are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Travelers should check with their sponsoring organization to ensure they have the correct documentation in place or risk penalties, including detention, fines, and deportation. The government’s regulations allow for similar penalties for those who assist others to reside or work illegally in The Gambia.

Additional Resource: The Gambia Country Information Sheet