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UN refugee agency helps Mauritanian refugees return home from Senegal

UN refugee agency helps Mauritanian refugees return home from Senegal

First Mauritanian refugees return home after 20-year exile
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has resumed assisting Mauritanian refugees return to their home country from Senegal where they have been in exile for nearly two decades.

Yesterday, a UNHCR convoy took 257 refugees from 61 families from four settlements on the southern bank of the Senegal River to the Mauritanian town of Rosso.

“We plan to step up the pace of voluntary returns and organize bi-weekly convoys to reach a target of 3,000 returns per month,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva, adding that the next two convoys will take over 400 returnees to Mauritania on 18 and 22 March.

Currently, some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees are residing in northern Senegal, along the border with their home country.

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.

Yesterday’s repatriation follows the voluntary return of 103 refugees in late January, and the current UNHCR programme will come to a close this December.

Those repatriating receive an assistance package, which includes kitchen sets, blankets, buckets, mosquito nets, soap and sanitary kits. They are also given a three-month food ration from the UN World Food Program (WFP).

In the areas to which refugees are returning, reintegration projects are underway in the health, water and education sectors.