DAKAR, July 27, 2007 (AFP) – The UN refugee agency said Friday it will begin identifying next week some 20,000 Mauritanian refugees who have been living in Senegal for nearly two decades ahead of their planned repatriation.
“The exercise will allow for the collection of more precise information on the refugees, their regions of origin and their real intentions before the start of the voluntary repatriation in October 2007,” said Francis Kpatinde, the agency’s spokesman for western Africa.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working on the text of an agreement between itself, Senegal and Mauritania “that will serve as a legal base” for the operation, he said.
The agreement would guarantee returnees their Mauritanian citizenship, as well as the ability to recover property or be paid reparations. It should be signed in August, said Kpatinde.
Tens of thousands of black Mauritanians were deported, mostly to Senegal, during ethnic violence between 1989 and 1991. About 20,000 continue to live in makeshift settlements along the border of the two countries.
Most of some 6,000 others living in Mali have obtained citizenship in that country and the UNHCR does not plan repatriations from there.
The UNHCR estimates that 14,000 refugees in Senegal would opt for repatriation, with the cost nearing 1.5 million dollars (1.1 million euros). The operation is set to end in December 2008.
Repatriation of the refugees in Senegal is one of the commitments of the recently democratically elected president in Mauritania, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.
The regime of president Maaouiya Ould Taya, toppled in a coup in 2005, was accused of serious abuse of mainly black Mauritanians in the northwest African country, where light-skinned Moors have held power most of the time.