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The Gambia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BANJUL AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s The Gambia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

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 the heavily-trafficked tourist areas. However, crimes against visitors still occur.

Banjul is a high-crime threat city. Over the past few years, reported residential crimes have been increasing. Gambian police attribute much of the criminal activity to third-country nationals. The poor economy and food insecurity have attributed to the increased crime rates. The full spectrum of criminal activity can be found in Banjul, especially at night. Official Americans, business persons, and visitors are victimized primarily by crimes of opportunity (pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft of valuables from vehicles, assaults, residential burglaries).

Westerners walking along the beach or in the Senegambia tourist area are often approached by vendors, bumsters (the local young men offering services ranging from tour guide to sexual partner), or by street criminals looking for a potential victim.

Credit/ATM card fraud, while less frequent than in other West African cities, is a concern in Banjul, and the U.S. Embassy recommends that its employees avoid using them. Credit card fraud and related scams are primary concerns. Skimming is the primary means of credit fraud and is often not detected until fraudulent charges appear on statements. If you must use your ATM/credit/debit card, accounts should be closely reviewed for fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

American personnel should be cognizant of the border between Senegal and The Gambia and make a concerted effort to not stray into the Casamance. Although there is a de-facto cease-fire in place between the two sides, the danger in the area has resulted in an Embassy policy that severely restricts travel into the Casamance and requires adherence to U.S. Embassy Dakar’s guidance on the area.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

The most prevalent danger posed to Americans in Banjul is vehicle accidents, especially at night. Drivers in The Gambia are aggressive, unpredictable, and untrained. Poor traffic markers, limited street lights, poor road conditions (major flooding during the rainy season), and pedestrians walking along the road are normal. Taxis and buses are often in poor working condition, often have faulty brake lights, and make sudden maneuvers without signaling.

Bars and nightclubs are often open until 0500 or 0600. Driving during the very late-night hours is fraught with the additional peril of sharing the road with drivers under the influence of alcohol. Drunk-driving accidents occur regularly.

Road conditions outside of Banjul can be more dangerous. Few paved roads and no emergency services have resulted in an Embassy policy prohibiting driving at night between cities.

Police checkpoints occur nightly and intermittently during the day. Travelers may be required to exit the vehicle and permit a search of the vehicle and its contents. Travelers may also be required to produce identification. Military checkpoints were established at all regional borders, the Denton Bridge heading into Banjul, entry to the “Senegambia strip,” and at other locations throughout the country; however, it is unclear whether military checkpoints will occur under the new administration. Under former President Jammeh, police checkpoints, particularly in Banjul and surrounding cities, were frequent, with police officials checking primarily for identification, vehicle registration, and insurance. The Gambian military had several checkpoints at regional borders and sometimes searched vehicles for contraband or weapons. Travelers should always stop at these roadblocks, present the requested documents, and submit to the vehicle search.

Crossing the border is relatively easy. The Gambia shares a land border with Senegal. Vehicle and luggage searches are uncommon, but may be conducted based on the current security climate.

Aviation Conditions

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

Other Travel Conditions

There are two ferry crossings in The Gambia: Banjul and Farafenni.

  • The ferry crossing in Banjul is relatively reliable but may be prone to long delays if one of the two ferries is not running. The ferries are routinely overcrowded and filled to capacity with vehicles and pedestrians.
  • The Farafenni crossing, three hours away, is smaller but takes less time to cross because the river is much narrower.

The use of small fishing boats and pirogues to cross the river is highly discouraged due to the high rate of accidents and poor safety conditions.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BANJUL AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats and Concerns

There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations, and The Gambia is not a known base of support for terrorists, nor are Gambians known to sympathize with terrorists or their activity. While recent regional terror attacks in West Africa have not directly affected people in The Gambia, all visitors should be familiar with the contents of the Department of State’s regularly updated worldwide cautionary statement. This statement expresses the Department’s concern about the continued threat of attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against American citizens and American interests abroad.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BANJUL AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

The drafting of this report directly followed the election of Adama Barrow as the president of The Gambia. It is unclear how relevant past observations of government practices will be in the current administration. President Barrow was elected on December 1, 2016, in an election widely considered to be free and fair. Former President Yahya Jammeh, an autocrat who ruled for 22 years, initially accepted the results but then reneged, which set off a wave of events that led to his unceremonious departure from the country under threat of ECOWAS military intervention on January 21, 2017. Although Jammeh is gone, many of his supporters remain, and clashes between them and the Barrow government remain a possibility. The government has a history of military coups and coup attempts. While the Jammeh government inspired a state of fear because of its ruthless tactics to silence opponents, the Barrow administration promises to be more democratic and uphold values consistent with international norms.

Civil Unrest

Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes seldom occurred under former President Jammeh; however, RSO does not expect the Barrow government to be as strict with issuing permits. Americans should avoid large political gatherings; peaceful gatherings can quickly turn violent if police involvement occurs.

The armed resistance Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) against the government of Senegal is the longest running active separatist movement in Africa. Since 1982, MFDC rebels have been fighting for the independence of the southwestern region of Senegal between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, known as the Casamance. The MFDC primarily has targeted military installations, convoys, and personnel to destabilize the region, but civilians living/traveling in the Casamance have been targets of opportunity for the rebels and sympathetic bandits.

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. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

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, and there is strong societal discrimination against 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 number of people have reportedly been arrested under this new law. Former President Jammeh frequently used violent, threatening, public rhetoric to discourage LGBT individuals from traveling to The Gambia, and he participated in public protests against LGBT rights. The Barrow government has committed to abiding by international human rights norms.

Drug-related Crimes

Due to the high tourist volume, demand for illegal drugs increases during the tourist season. The Gambia serves as an access/transit point for drugs into/through Africa. There have been no reports of drug-related crimes; however, several large drug seizures over the past few years highlight The Gambia’s coordinated anti-drug campaign. Persons found with drugs in their possession are arrested and prosecuted. Foreigners arrested for drug violations can expect to be prosecuted and if convicted to be sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison. Drug peddlers can be found in tourist areas. Visitors should refrain from engaging drug peddlers in any conversation and should not purchase, possess, or use illegal drugs while in The Gambia.

Police Response

The Gambia has strict laws regarding the use and possession of dangerous weapons. “Military style” firearms are illegal. Hunting weapons can be licensed by the police. Violators can be subject to arrest and incarceration.

Except for regular checkpoints, there is limited visibility of police presence in Banjul and the surrounding areas. Police do not have the ability to respond quickly to crisis situations. Police lack training, equipment, and resources (radios, 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.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) under former President Jammeh routinely ignored The Gambia’s treaty obligations to provide notification to the U.S. Embassy when American citizens were detained. The government of The Gambia also did not always acknowledge detentions or arrests. They did not provide notification to or access for Consular officials, family members, legal counsel, or any other outside parties, or follow its own laws regarding charging detainees within 72 hours. That policy likely will change under the Barrow administration.

Do not ignore a policeman’s lawful or reasonable orders. Becoming belligerent will only exacerbate the situation and prolong detention. In the event of an emergency or arrest, you may ask to call the Embassy. This request is not always honored expeditiously and may need to be repeated.

Crime Victim Assistance

Police: 117. Response times are not always fast.

Gambia National Police Headquarters – (220) 422-4914

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

Bakau Police Station – (220) 449-5328 

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 are often conducted 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 is responsible for investigating most crimes.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency of The Gambia enforces drug laws.

The Gambian Armed Forces would be called to 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 are very limited and are considered inadequate for most serious conditions. 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. Emergency assistance is limited. Some hospitals have ambulance services, but these are limited, 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. Travelers should carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Many prescription drugs may be purchased locally, but the drugs are often counterfeit and not easily discernable from the genuine drugs. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Fire/rescue services: 118. Emergency services are unreliable and ill-equipped to handle most emergencies.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Lamatoro Medical Centre, Badala Parkway, Kololi. Tel: 446-2777 997-4418

New Smile, Bertil Harding Highway, The Village. Tel: 3992402 8806177

Sharab, Kanifing. Tel: 333-1100

Fajara Clinic, Fajara Booster Station. Tel: 4494772 9972123

Edward Francis Small, Banjul. Tel: 769-9765

Afrimed Clinic, Senegambia Junction. Tel: 441-0685 773-9415

Gambia Bijilo Clinic, Senegamiba Highway. Tel: 446-4868 666-5555

Medical Research Council, Cape Point, Bakau. Tel: 4495442

Barfrow Clinic, Serrekunda. Tel:  4392427 7774469

Available Air Ambulance Services

There are no international medevac companies based in The Gambia.

Insurance Guidance

Westerners in serious condition will require a medevac after being stabilized. Such medevac services are very expensive and are 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.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

All routine U.S. immunizations (measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, Hepatitis A, tetanus) should be up to date prior to arrival. These illnesses are more common in Africa than in the U.S.

Yellow fever vaccination is required.

The Gambia has a moderate prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions. Please verify this with the Gambian Embassy before you travel.

Malaria is very common and travelers should arrive with prophylaxis.

There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in The Gambia. The Gambian government has established a hotline for inquiries pertaining to Ebola: 1025.

Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers even in large cities and luxury accommodations. Travelers can diminish diarrhea risk by washing their hands and using hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating. The greatest risk of traveler’s diarrhea is 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. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.” Talk to your doctor about short-course antibiotics and medications to take with you in the case you suffer from diarrhea while traveling.

Rabies immunization is recommended for all travelers staying for more than four weeks or who will have remote, rural travel or expect animal exposure. Dogs may have rabies, and bites/scratches from dogs, bats, or other mammals should be immediately cleaned with soap/water and medical evaluation sought to determine if additional rabies immunization is warranted.

Tuberculosis is a serious health concern in The Gambia.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no OSAC country council in The Gambia. The nearest OSAC Country Council is in Dakar, Senegal. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team to if you would like to be put in touch with the Regional Security Officer (RSO). The RSO can provide country briefings for representatives of American businesses and organizations as requested.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Banjul
Kairaba Avenue, Fajara, The Gambia

Business hours: Mon-Thurs: 0800-1730; Fri: 0800-1200
 

Embassy Contact Numbers

Time zone: The Gambia is on GMT

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

Fax: +220-439-2475

Embassy duty officer (afterhours) +220-439-2856 X2466

Marine Guard (24 Hours): +220-439-2856 X2466

Email: DS_RSO_Banjul@state.gov

Website: http://banjul.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling 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.

U.S. citizens are not required to have a Senegalese visa for trips less than 90 days in duration. Travelers should confirm updated visa requirements with the Senegalese Embassy before traveling into Senegal.

Additional Resources

The Gambia Country Information Sheet