UNHCR to start repatriating Mauritanians from late January

News Stories, 18 January 2008

© UNHCR/K.Deriche
Testing pirogues on the Senegal River near Rosso. Such boats will be used to ferry returnees to Mauritania.

GENEVA, January 18 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the governments of Mauritania and Senegal have agreed to start repatriating some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees from January 28.

The agreement came Thursday at the first meeting of a tripartite commission set up by the three parties to discuss the return of Mauritanian refugees currently in Senegal.

Yesterday's meeting in the Senegal capital, Dakar, followed the signing last November of an agreement 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," UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told journalists in Geneva.

He said the first convoy was expected to bring more than 100 refugees back to their home areas in Rosso Ville and Medina Salam in south-west Mauritania, 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 the World Food Programme (WFP).

After almost two decades in exile, some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees living in more than 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 of their own accord to return to Mauritania between 1996-98.

The Tripartite Commission is expected to meet again in February.

By C├ęcile Pouilly in Geneva