The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it has begun the
final stage of the organized voluntary repatriation of Mauritanian
refugees from Senegal. It says between 5,000 and 7,000 refugees are
expected to return by the end of the year.
The U.N. refugee agency says the end of this repatriation will mark the conclusion of a UNHCR operation that began in 1989. The 2009 repatriation began in January. But, it was suspended between mid-July and mid-October because of the rainy season, which made roads impassable.
UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says more than 14,000 Mauritanian refugees, comprising 3,634 families, had returned from Senegal to four regions in Mauritania before the operation was suspended.
"Strong support is needed for them to rebuild their lives," he said. "The Mauritanian national refugee organization and its partners are assisting in the reintegration process with a variety of programs allocating farm land, providing Arabic and French language courses, doing medical screening of the returnees, etc."
"More challenges must still be addressed before the returnees enjoy the same conditions as other Mauritanian citizens, including deficiencies in health, education, water, and food security," he added.
The returns follow a call by Mauritanian authorities in 2007 for their citizens to come home. They fled to Senegal two decades ago to escape clashes between black African and Moorish communities in Mauritania.
The UNHCR says it is important to make sure the repatriation of the Mauritanian refugees is sustainable and that the returnees become self-sufficient.
Mahecic says the UNHCR and its partners, including all UN agencies, will continue to implement income-generating activities and monitor returnees in 2010. He says the agencies are supplying water, distributing farming supplies, setting up cooperatives and implementing food-for-work projects.
Mahecic says it is likely that another organized voluntary operation of refugees in Mali to Mauritania could begin next year. He says a recent census in Mali found an estimated 8,000 out of 12,000 Mauritanian refugees may wish to return home.
However, he says the repatriation operation cannot go ahead until the Mauritanian and Malian governments agree on how the returns will be carried out.