The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has warned against travel to The Gambia except for essential travel after its outgoing president declared a state of emergency. Travel agent Thomas Cook has made contingency plans to bring home an estimated 985 customers by laying on additional flights.
Updating an earlier advisory, the FCO is now warning against all but essential travel to the Gambia. In a statement this evening (17 January) the FCO said: "The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to The Gambia due to ongoing political uncertainty and potential military intervention following the Presidential elections on 1 December 2016. If you're currently in The Gambia you should leave by commercial means if you have no essential need to remain."
The FCO continues: "The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high and could result in Banjul International Airport being closed at short notice.
"You should follow events closely, take extra care, keep in regular contact with your tour operator and airline and continue to monitor travel advice and social media updates in case tensions rise as the current political deadlock continues. Avoid large crowds and avoid discussing politically sensitive topics in public."
Thomas Cook said the company has "implemented our contingency plans to bring all our UK customers home as soon as possible. We will operate a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport over the next 48 hours to bring the 985 UK customers we currently have on holiday in Gambia home, including four additional flights on Wednesday 18th January. In addition, we have approximately 2,500 flight-only customers in Gambia, whom we are contacting to offer the earliest possible flight availability for return to the UK."
The agency has despatched a special assistance team, to provide support at Banjul airport. Free amendments or cancellations for holidays to Gambia are available up to and including 20 January. The latest information is on their website.
President Yahya Jammeh, who lost the election to Adama Barrow, says he will not stand down on 19 January as scheduled because of foreign "interference" in Gambia's affairs.
Jammeh, 51, has been in power since a 1994 coup and initially seemed to accept the result of the election. However he now says he may retain power due to "the unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of the Gambia".
Barrow, also 51, who is due to be sworn in on Thursday (19th January), was born in The Gambia and was once a security guard at an Argos store in Holloway Road, north London. On Sunday (15 January) his eight-year-old son died after being bitten by a dog in Gambia, but Jammeh has now filed an injunction to try to prevent Barrow from attending his own inauguration.
Regional leaders have threatened to take military action against Jammeh if he fails to stand down, Reuters reports, and Nigeria has dispatched a warship to waters off the country. The African Union, United Nations Security Council and Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) have all called on Jammeh to stand down.