Final phase of organized repatriation from Senegal to Mauritania begins

Briefing Notes, 23 October 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 October 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This week we began the final stage of the organized voluntary repatriation of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal. By the end of December, 5,000 to 7,000 refugees are expected to return. The end of this repatriation will mark the conclusion of a UNHCR operation that began in 1989.

The 2009 repatriation began in January but was suspended from 20 July until 19 October because of the rainy season. Prior to the resumption, 14,147 Mauritanian refugees comprising 3,634 families had returned from Senegal to Mauritania's Trarza, Brakna, Gorgol, Guidimakha and Assaba regions.

The repatriation follows a call by Mauritanian authorities in 2007 for their citizens to come home, two decades after they fled to Senegal to escape clashes between Negro-African and Moorish communities in Mauritania.

Strong support is needed for them to rebuild their lives. The Mauritanian national refugee organization Agence Nationale d'Appui à la Réintégration des Réfugiés, UNHCR and its partners are assisting in the reintegration process with a variety of programmes: allocating farm land, providing Arabic and French language courses; doing medical screening of the returnees; supplying water; distributing farming supplies; setting up cooperatives; and implementing food-for-work projects,

More challenges must still be addressed before returnees enjoy the same conditions as other Mauritanian citizens, including deficiencies in health, education, water, and food security. To ensure the repatriation is sustainable and that returnees become self-sufficient, UNHCR and its partners, including all UN agencies, will continue to implement income-generating activities and monitor returnees in 2010.

In addition, an estimated 12,000 Mauritanian refugees were identified in a recent census to profile Mauritanian refugees in Mali. Out of those, an estimated 8,000 may wish to return, however the modalities for their repatriation have not yet been agreed between the Mauritanian and Malian governments. UNHCR believes assisted repatriation of that last group of refugees could begin in 2010.

The budget for the return and reintegration of Mauritanian refugees in the first half of 2009 was USD 8,980,000, of which $6,943,361 was for activities in Mauritania and $2,036,639 was for activities in Senegal and Mali. UNHCR is revising the Supplementary Budget to reflect the additional requirement of approximately $1,760,204 for activities through the rest of the year.