Launch of voluntary repatriation for Mauritanian refugees from Senegal

Briefing Notes, 29 January 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 January 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is today carrying out the first repatriation of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal. The programme aims to help up to 24,000 Mauritanian refugees return home on a voluntary basis after some 20 years in exile.

The first 101 returnees are being brought today by truck from two refugee sites located in Thiabakh and Dagana to the official launching ceremony scheduled for 9.00 am GMT (10 am Geneva time) in the town of Rosso in Senegal.

After the ceremony, the 101 refugees, with their belongings, will cross the Senegal River aboard the regular ferry to reach the town of Rosso in Mauritania. Upon arrival, they will be welcomed in a reception centre before being transferred to their places of origin in Rosso and its neighbourhoods.

The returnees will receive some material assistance, including basic domestic items such as kitchen sets, blankets, buckets, mosquito nets, soap, as well as sanitary kits from UNHCR. Returnees will also be given a three-month food ration from the World Food Programme.

This launch follows a series of positive steps to solve one of the most protracted refugee situations on the African continent. After Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi announced last June 20 World Refugee Day his decision to invite all remaining refugees to return, a tripartite agreement was signed in November between the governments of Mauritania and Senegal and UNHCR, paving the way for the return of refugees.

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 to 1998.