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Gambia Senegal Yahya Jammeh

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Gambians return home to breathe 'freedom air'

A packed ferry arrives at Banjul port, 23 January 2016. Daniel Finnan/RFI

Gambians who fled the political crisis in the country are returning home following the departure of ex-President Yahya Jammeh and the deployment of Senegalese troops. Some 76,000 people fled the country, according to the UN refugee agency citing Senegalese authorities, as tensions rose over Jammeh’s refusal to leave office.

“We've been exile for about six days and we've been in worse for 22 years,” said Ruben, who had just stepped off the ferry in Banjul. “Breathe, smell it - freedom air, nothing beats it!”

Radio report

Many of the Gambians arriving by boat from Barra, on the other side of the River Gambia, had crossed the border to neighbouring Senegal.

A number of buses had picked them up from Senegalese towns such as Mbour where they had sought refuge while the departure of Jammeh was being negotiated.

“I've returned back because my country is stable because Ecowas soldiers, they've come to cover the population,” said David Mende, a 20-year-old student.

Returnees boarding a bus which will take them to Westfield, Serrekunda.

After being dropped off at the Barra ferry port and crossing the river, there were buses on hand to transport people on the other side. The women and children were a priority and ushered onto the buses first. The Gambian Red Cross were distributing food and water to those in need of assistance.

One remaining busload of people was waiting at Barra late on Monday, according to a senior official at the Banjul port. The ferry makes some seven trips to and from the capital each day.

Fortunately for many of these returnees it was a short stay away from home. They came back having confidence in the security provided by the Ecowas force and with high hopes for President Adama Barrow.