Senegal: lives on hold in Casamance

15-06-2010 Feature

The fighting of recent years in Casamance has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. The ICRC is helping the most vulnerable among them to get by. Everyone yearns to return some day.

  See also: ICRC delivers essential aid to displaced persons in Casamance

Kaoussou Sagna fled Baraf and is now living in another village with a dozen other displaced families. All are anxious to return. 
"Everything we had is gone", said Jean-Marie Sambou, who fled from Baraf, where he was born, to Bourofaye Diola. 
A house in Baraf destroyed during the fighting last year. 

In September 2009, armed violence drove the thousand inhabitants of Baraf from their homes. The villagers, mostly farmers, had to abandon houses, fields and orchards and flee. They have since joined the ranks of displaced people in and around nearby city of Ziguinchor, whose numbers have grown dramatically owing to the poor security situation that has persisted in this part of Senegal for over two decades now.

Kaoussou Sagna leans his bicycle against the trunk of a mango tree. The bike is all he managed to take with him when he left home. Now he's living in the village of Bourofaye Diola, just next to Baraf but unaffected by mines. In all, a dozen Baraf families are living, and waiting, in Bourofaye Diola. " We came here because we know the people and they're willing to help, " Kaoussou explains. Everyone has made room for their homeless neighbours.

 Mine contamination  

Mariama Coly is now living with her cousin in Ziguinchor, accompanied by her husband and eight children. They used to have fields and orchards in Baraf, and a little house that they had built themselves. When the first shots rang out, they were working in the fields. They thought the fighting wouldn't last. In the end, they had to flee like the others.

Mariama was one of the first displaced residents to risk returning for a look. " I couldn't stand not knowing what had become of our house, our fields, our life, " she says. It took a lot of insisting but she was finally allowed to pass all the checkpoints and other obstacles and go to the village, despite the ever-present risk of mines a nd unexploded ordnance. " I did it to see and to find out whether we could go back, " Mariama explains. What she found was a damaged house with part of the roof caved in, and the recently harvested crops burnt.


Everybody's standard of living has fallen. These farmers used to work their land, helped by their wives and children. They consumed what they needed and sold or stored the rest. Today they are getting by as well as they can in an economy hard hit by the violence. The women earn some money selling in the markets while the men occasionally managed to hire themselves out as farmworkers.

Casamance is a fertile area, and agriculture is the biggest source of income. But there is no agriculture in Baraf. The chicken, goats and sheep have disappeared. " Everything we had is gone " , said Jean-Marie Sambou, who fled from Baraf, where he was born, to Bourofaye Diola.

The ICRC estimates that 40,000 people have been driven from their homes in Casamance. About 10,000 if them are living in Ziguinchor. The " recently displaced " from Baraf join the " long-term displaced " , some of whom have been unable to return home for over a decade.

 Aid for the hardest hit  

As part of its mandate to protect and assist people affected by armed conflict and other violence, the ICRC is working through its office in Ziguinchor to help the people of Baraf.

In conjunction with the Senegalese Red Cross Society, the ICRC carried out a study last April to identify the families in greatest need, an undertaking made more urgent by the approach of the rainy season. The study's criteria included access to food and health care, schooling for children, housing, and the family size. With the help of the village chief, a total of 52 families were located and their situation assessed.

To meet their basic needs, the ICRC recently provided each family with rice, beans, cooking oil, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets and buckets.

The displaced residents of Baraf are grateful to the families who have taken them. But no matter how warm their welcome, no matter how well they get along, their desire is to go home. " People have been good to us, " says one, " but we still feel as if we were in prison. And we're anxious to be released. "