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Guinea-Bissau Naturalizes Senegalese Refugees

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Guinea-Bissau Naturalizes Senegalese Refugees

VOA, 04 Dec 2018

URL: https://www.voanews.com/a/guinea-bissau-naturalizes-senegalese-refugees/4681514.html
Ricci Shryock

PELUNDO, GUINEA-BISSAU — 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 offcial 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."