Thousands of relieved British tourists have arrived home safely after escaping an impending conflict in Gambia.
Special evacuation flights were put on by travel operators in a bid to get UK citizens out of the country before any fighting breaks out.
Military forces have gathered at Gambia’s border poised to invade if the president Yahya Jammeh does not stand down after refusing to accept the latest election result.
Thousands of relieved British tourists have arrived home safely after escaping an impending conflict in Gambia
British traveller Sara Wilkins was seen consoling a fellow passenger Ebrima Jagne, who is originally from the African country and was clearly distressed
They arrived on repatriation flights organised by tour operator Thomas Cook at Manchester Airport
It comes as military forces gathered at Gambia’s border poised to invade if the president does not stand down after refusing to accept the latest election result
British traveller Sara Wilkins was seen consoling fellow passenger Ebrima Jagne, who is originally from the African country and was clearly distressed, after they arrived at Manchester Airport.
Tour operator Thomas Cook started flying nearly 1,000 holidaymakers home on Wednesday.
In a statement, the company said: ‘Our colleagues on the ground in Gambia and our special assistance team who flew into Banjul today have been working hard to get our UK customers home from the Gambia as quickly as possible.
‘Today, we operated four extra flights from Banjul airport in addition to one scheduled flight.
British tourists stuck in Gambia produced a spectrum of reactions to their predicament on social media
‘Banjul airport has limited check-in and departure facilities compared with most UK airports and is operating with fewer local staff because of the situation.
‘We would like to thank customers for their continued patience as our teams on the ground work to get everyone home as quickly as we can.
‘Over the next two days we will be operating nine extra flights from Banjul airport, in addition to two scheduled flights, to bring home our remaining UK customers.
‘To help our customers with check-in and departure we are flying additional colleagues out from the UK on the first flight tomorrow.
‘By the end of Friday, January 20 we expect to have brought home approximately 3,500 passengers on a total of 16 flights.’
Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh has failed to accept his election defeat to Adama Barrow
A Thomas Cook travel representative helps tourists prepare to leave the Gambia after the British Government changed the travel advisory to amber due to the state of emergency issued by Gambian President Jammeh
British tourists check in at Banjul Airport, Gambia, Wednesday, as special flights are arranged
Tourists are seen gathered as they board buses leaving for the airport a day after the country declared a state of emergency, in Banjul, Gambia
Meanwhile, nearby nations are preparing for military action in Gambia to overthrow Yahya Jammeh, as the man who once pledged to rule the West African nation for a billion years clung to power.
Jammeh failed to accept his election defeat to Adama Barrow, an ex-Argos security guard from north London.
After a midnight deadline set by the West African regional bloc to step down, there was no word from Jammeh.
Gambia’s economy relies on one main crop, peanuts, and tourism. Its beaches are popular with European holidaymakers seeking a winter break.
Adama Barrow, the flag-bearer of the coalition of the seven opposition political parties in Gambia, greets supporters during a gathering in the buffer Zone district of Talinding on November 29
Extra flights are being laid on for tourists who are attempting to escape Gambia
Meanwhile, witnesses in Senegal have reported seeing troops making their way toward Gambia’s borders.
Jammeh, who has held the post for 22 years, is refusing to stand down, which has prompted West African nations to prepare for an invasion of Gambia to ensure democracy is adhered to.
Barrow, who worked at Argos while studying in London, was meant to be sworn in on Thursday, but the long-term leader is standing his ground.
Gambia crisis: What to do if you are are there
Thomas Cook has today brought in emergency plans to bring all its UK customers home as soon as possible.
It will operate additional flights from Banjul airport over the next 48 hours to bring the 985 UK customers they currently have on holiday in Gambia home, including four additional flights today.
In addition, it has approximately 2,500 flight-only customers in Gambia, who they are contacting to offer the earliest possible flight availability for return to the UK.
The travel company is also dispatching a special assistance team from the UK to provide additional support at Banjul airport, while staff on the ground in Gambia will proactively contact all customers who flew with them but are staying independently.
Tourists due to travel up until January 20 are being offered free cancellations.
People travelling after that can make free changes to their holidays.
Customers can call Thomas Cook on 01733 224 536.
Nigeria is understood to have asked the British Army to help out with plans for what is being described as a ‘rapid reaction’ to install the county’s rightful president, according to the Telegraph.
The country has sent 200 soldiers and air assets including fighter jets to Senegal as part of the operation.
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) said it had ‘today moved a contingent of 200 men and air assets comprising fighter jets, transport aircraft, light utility helicopter as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Dakar from where it is expected to operate into Gambia’.
The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly called on leader Yahya Jammeh to respect the result of the December 1 election and step down after 22 years in power.
Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency as President-elect Barrow maintained his inauguration will go ahead as planned on Thursday on Gambian soil.
Nigeria said the forces were part of an ECOWAS military standby intervention force ‘tasked by ECOWAS heads of state to enforce the December 1, 2016 election mandate in The Gambia’.
‘The deployment is also to forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia,’ it added in a statement.
Cars line up at the border post check point in Seleki, Senegal, at the border with Gambia
Tourists prepare to leave the Gambia after the British Government changed the travel advisory to amber due to the state of emergency
Incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (centre) has his finger inked before casting his marble in a polling station in a presidential poll, in Banjul, last year
In the wake of presidential polls in the country in December, Barrow remains in exile in Senegal, according to the IB Times.
The bitter stand-off means the president-elect cannot even attend the funeral of his eight-year-old son Habibu, who was mauled to death by a dog in the Gambian town of Manjai.
The situation has led to thousands of citizens fleeing the country who are in fear of mass bloodshed.
Earlier this week, Jammeh filed an injunction to stop election winner Barrow from taking office and to bar other parties from swearing in the opposition coalition leader.
Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow speaks during an interview in Banjul in December
The president told Gambians they must wait for a supreme court hearing before he considers stepping down.
He addressed the West African nation as Senegal said it was hosting president-elect Mr Barrow until his January 19 inauguration.
But Jammeh, 51, said that date, marking the end of his mandate, was ‘not carved in stone’.
‘I have confirmed that we have filed an application for an injunction to restrict Adama Barrow from being sworn in as well as restricting the chief justice and any other parties from swearing in Adama Barrow until the application is decided by the supreme court of Gambia,’ Jammeh said.
‘And until then, the status quo remains.’
President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh (centre) welcoming President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (right) and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (left) for talks at the State House in Banjul, Gambia, on Friday
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh who is refusing to stand down after losing the election
Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, had conceded after losing in the December 1 election, but a week later he rejected the vote, saying there were irregularities.
He and his party filed a petition calling for a new vote and he appointed judges to the supreme court, which had not sat for more than a year.
The Nigerian and Sierra Leone judges he appointed, however, have said they cannot sit until May.
ECOWAS leaders attempting to mediate the political crisis met Jammeh and Barrow in Gambia on Friday, but said no deal was reached.
The West African regional bloc has said if Jammeh does not cede power it will consider military intervention and has already prepared a standby force led by Senegal, which almost completely surrounds Gambia.
A Nigerian army memo has also ordered officers to prepare a battalion of 800 troops for the possible military intervention, should Jammeh not step down.
Gambia on the brink: African state in turmoil after president refuses to accept the election result
Yahyah Jammeh came to power by a coup in 1994 and has run the country for over 22 years
Yahya Jammeh came to power by a coup in 1994 and has run Gambia for over 22 years.
He has a fierce reputation for locking up or executing anyone who criticises his methods.
Dealing out punishment to his victims is his loyal militia, the Jungulers, reports the Telegraph.
The Jungulers are reported to torture their victims, with methods including melting plastic bags on skin.
Other bizarre tales involve Jammeh considering himself a Witchfinder.
In 2009 the premier ordered 1,000 people he believed to be ‘sorcerers’ to be rounded up and forced to drink hallucinogens to ‘exorcise them.
Jammeh is also a self-proclaimed spiritual healer and claimed to have invented a herbal cure for HIV in 2007.
He is also anti-colonialist and has withdrawn Gambia from the Commonwealth as well as removing English as the official language of the west African nation.