Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2016, 16:36 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Mauritania , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c1365.html [accessed 29 August 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Mauritania hosted about 25,000 refugees from Western Sahara at the end of 2001. About 4,000 persons from Mali continued to reside in Mauritania in refugee-like circumstances.

Nearly 50,000 Mauritanians were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2001, including an estimated 40,000 in Senegal, some 5,000 in Mali, and 4,000 new Mauritanian asylum seekers in Europe and other Western countries.

Refugees from Western Sahara

Ethnic Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara fled to Mauritania during the 1970s to escape an independence war in their homeland. In 2001, as in previous years, uncertainty about the political future of Western Sahara deterred the refugee population from returning home.

An undetermined number of Sahrawi refugees arrived in Mauritania during 2001 after many years of living in Algeria. The newly arrived refugees migrated to Mauritania in part because of "harsh economic conditions" in their camps in Algeria, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported. Family connections in Mauritania also drew the new arrivals.

Sahrawi refugees in Mauritania were largely self-sufficient, and UNHCR and other aid agencies had virtually no contact with them. Most lived in the northwest village of Zouerte and the town of Nouahdibou on Mauritania's coastal border with Western Sahara.

Populations from Mali

About 4,000 Malians who fled to Mauritania in the mid-1990s remained there during 2001 despite peace in Mali. UNHCR has encouraged the population to return home.

The Malians lived without assistance near the Mauritania-Mali border. Because most of the Malian population remained unwilling to repatriate in 2001, UNHCR indicated that the agency planned to seek government permission to settle them permanently in Mauritania.

Refugees from Mauritania

Ethnic conflict during 1989-90 culminated in the government's expulsion of approximately 75,000 black Mauritanians from the country. An additional 15,000 or so nomadic Mauritanians who were in Mali during the upheaval also were barred from returning.

Mauritanian authorities claimed that the refugee populations were not Mauritanian citizens. However, international human rights organizations charged that Mauritanian leaders – predominantly fair-skinned, Arabic-speaking "Moors" – sought to purge their country's black population, and confiscated vacant property left behind by the refugees.

The exact number of Mauritanian refugees in 2001 and the total number who have gradually repatriated in recent years were uncertain. Mauritanian human rights organizations estimated that 60,000 or more people were still refugees, while UNHCR has estimated in recent years that fewer than half that number remained refugees. An estimated 30,000 to 60,000 refugees have repatriated to Mauritania since the late 1990s.

A "Declaration of Mauritanian Refugees" issued by Mauritanian refugee groups in 2000 charged that most refugees who repatriated did not receive official citizenship cards and lacked freedom of movement inside Mauritania. Local police have been accused of abusing returnees at some locations. However, UNHCR has offered a more positive assessment, reporting in recent years that most returnees recovered their land and identity papers.

UNHCR did not regularly monitor southern Mauritania's returnee areas, which historically have been beset by ethnic tensions and banditry.

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