Tripartite meeting on the return of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal

Briefing Notes, 18 January 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 January 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A Tripartite Commission involving the governments of Mauritania and Senegal and UNHCR met for the first time yesterday to discuss the upcoming return of Mauritanian refugees currently in Senegal.

The meeting followed the signing last November of an agreement between the three parties on the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Mauritanian refugees who fled from their country following a series of incidents in 1989.

After tackling technical questions concerning the organization of the repatriation operation, the three parties declared they were ready to start the voluntary return of refugees starting from January 28. It was also agreed that UNHCR would confirm the precise date, based on technical matters.

The first convoy is expected to bring more than 100 refugees back to their home areas in Rosso ville and Medina Salam (Tekane), using motorized dugouts.

Upon their arrival, the returnees will receive domestic items, such as blankets, mosquito nets, soap and sanitary kits from UNHCR, as well as a three-month food ration from WFP.

After almost two decades in exile, some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees living in over 250 different locations in Senegal have expressed their wish to return to their home country.

In April 1989, a long-standing border dispute between Mauritania and Senegal escalated into ethnic violence. Some 60,000 Mauritanians fled to Senegal and Mali. UNHCR provided assistance to the Mauritanian refugees in northern Senegal until 1995 and facilitated the reintegration of 35,000 returnees who decided on their own accord to return to Mauritania between 1996-98.