Over 100 Mauritanian refugees, part of a group of 24,000 who fled to neighbouring Senegal over two decades ago, are returning to their home country today under a voluntary repatriation programme launched by the United Nations refugee agency after steps were taken by the governments concerned to address their plight.
The first 101 returnees are being brought today by truck from two refugee sites located in Thiabakh and Dagana to the official launching ceremony in the town of Rosso in Senegal, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva.
After the ceremony, the refugees will cross the Senegal River aboard a ferry to reach the town of Rosso in Mauritania, where they will be welcomed in a reception centre before being transferred to their places of origin in Rosso and its neighbourhoods.
“This launch follows a series of positive steps to solve one of the most protracted refugee situations on the African continent,” said Mr. Redmond. In June 2007, Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi announced 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.
Upon 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 UN World Food Programme (WFP).
In April 1989, a long-standing border dispute between the two countries erupted into ethnic violence, and some 60,000 Mauritanians fled to Senegal and Mali. UNHCR assisted the refugees in northern Senegal until 1995 and facilitated the reintegration of 35,000 who decided on their own accord to return home between 1996 and 1998.