Repatriation of some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees who have been living in Senegal for nearly two decades will start returning home in December, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday.
« The first convoy of returning candidates is planned for the first week of December 2007, » UNHCR spokesman for western Africa, Francis Kpatinde told AFP.
A tripartite accord which will legalise the repatriation exercise will be signed on November 12 in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, between the governments of Senegal and that of Mauritania as well as the UNHCR, as the implementing body. The agreement should « reaffirm, especially the nature of the voluntary repatriation … as well as the rights of repatriatees, » he said.
Prime Minister Zeine Ould Zeidane has picked November 15 as a day for Mauritanians at home to discuss and raise awareness on the fate of the would-be repatriatees. Zeidane said all Mauritanians, those who remained in the country following the violent clashes will regain their rights and will be able to live in dignity in the country, as « fully fledged citizens ».
Tens of thousands of black Mauritanians were deported, mostly to Senegal, during ethnic violence between 1989 and 1991. About 24,000 continue to live in makeshift settlements along the border of the two countries. The UNHCR plans to help move some 7,000 before the end of the year and the rest next year. It is also examining the possibility of repatriating a part of some 6,000 refugees who fled to nearby Mali.