Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Mauritania , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
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.


An estimated 45,000 Mauritanians were refugees at the end of 1999, including about 40,000 in Senegal and some 5,000 in Mali. An unknown number of Mauritanian refugees repatriated during the year.

Mauritania hosted more than 25,000 refugees from Western Sahara at year's end.

Refugees from Mauritania

Ethnic conflict in Mauritania 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 to Mauritania, as were children born to expellees.

Mauritanian authorities claimed that the refugee populations were not Mauritanian citizens. 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 the refugees left behind.

The exact number of Mauritanian refugees in 1999 and the total number who have repatriated in recent years are matters of conjecture. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that about 25,000 Mauritanians remained refugees in neighboring countries at the end of 1999. A Mauritanian human rights organization, however, estimated that 60,000 or more were still refugees.

UNHCR provided limited reintegration assistance to Mauritanian returnees in 130 villages until mid-1999. After UNHCR's reintegration program ended in April, the agency had virtually no presence in returnee areas. "Efficient monitoring of [returnees] in Mauritania has become unachievable" because of UNHCR's absence, reported the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Mauritania, an exile group opposed to the Mauritanian government.

Heightened banditry and ethnic tensions along the Mauritania-Mali border threatened returnees. "There is concern about of the returnees in the border area," UNHCR reported in September. "The situation is one that could deteriorate. An influx of refugees across the border to Mauritania can be expected at any time."

The Mauritanian government's treatment of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Mauritanian refugees who returned home in the late 1990s has varied significantly, according to UNHCR and other sources. The government operated a land reform program, ostensibly to provide land to returnees and other landless families, but many labeled the program unfair.

Some returnees managed to regain their previous land; some received new property roughly equivalent to the land they lost; other returnees failed to receive compensation of any kind from local authorities.

Some returnees complained that government officials continued to deny the returnees' citizenship. A Mauritanian human rights organization charged that some local police regularly beat and detained returnees who attempted to visit their former plots of land. An opposition political party stated in 1999 that many returnees remained "dispossessed of their goods, their papers, and marital status."

Refugee representatives expressed concern that a government plan to establish new citizenship documents for all Mauritanians might exclude current refugees and "cement the results of ethnic purification" begun 10 years earlier.

Many Mauritanian refugees in neighboring countries have indicated that they would repatriate only if Mauritanian officials guaranteed their citizenship, compensated them for their losses, and allowed full international assistance and protection.

Mauritanian authorities have refused to acknowledge blanket citizenship for the entire refugee population. The government insisted that it would evaluate citizenship on a case-by-case basis.

Refugees from Western Sahara

UNHCR and other international aid agencies have had virtually no contact with most ethnic Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara who live in Mauritania. The refugees fled to Mauritania during the 1970s because of war in Western Sahara. The Mauritanian government did not consider them to be refugees.

A United Nations registration program during 1998-99 found that about 25,000 Sahrawis in Mauritania were eligible for repatriation to Western Sahara, including some 5,000 adult males who were potentially eligible to vote in a referendum on Western Sahara's independence. Neither the referendum nor large-scale repatriation occurred in 1999, however. The largely self-sufficient refugee population remained in Mauritania at year's end.

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