Mauritania: UN refugee agency appeals for funds to aid refugee return
This return “will help resolve one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world,” the agency’s spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.
The newly-elected Government in the West African nation, which has prioritized the return and reintegration of refugees, announced that it would invite refugees to return home on World Refugee Day, on 20 June this year.
A long-standing border dispute between Mauritania and Senegal escalated into ethnic violence in April 1989, with 60,000 Mauritanians fleeing to Mali and Senegal.
The programme, under which UNHCR will organize safe transport and provide initial reintegration assistance to refugees, which is expected to last 17 months, will kick off in October, but faces some major logistical challenges, such as the lack of adequate roads in Mauritania along repatriation routes.
Most refugees returning from Senegal, a majority of whom live in rural areas where they have been granted access to land and public services, will travel across the 600-kilometer Senegal River to Mauritania. They will then require transportation on off-road vehicles to return to their places of origin which are far from the main roads. To minimize travel difficulties, the operation has been carefully timed to avoid the rainy season.
“Due to limited absorption capacity and poor infrastructure in return areas we plan to repatriate up to 7,000 refugees before the end of this year,” Ms. Pagonis said, adding that other refugees will return next year.
The initiative also seeks to bolster the welfare of impoverished communities which will absorb the refugees. “We plan to strengthen the existing education and health services and help to increase income from agriculture and animal husbandry,” she noted.
According to early results of a UNHCR survey conducted in concert with Senegal, 24,000 Mauritanians residing in more than 250 different locations in Senegal have expressed their desire to return to 50 communities in four regions of Mauritania. Additionally, several hundred refugees in Mali have also said they wish to repatriate.
The agency provided assistance to refugees in northern Senegal until 1995 and helped 35,000 returnees who repatriated voluntarily reintegrate.