Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2017, 12:01 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Mauritania , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 24 November 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.

Mauritania hosted about 25,000 refugees from Western Sahara at the end of 2000. 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 2000, including an estimated 40,000 in Senegal, some 5,000 in Mali, and 2,000 new Mauritanian asylum seekers in Europe.

Refugees from Western Sahara

Ethnic Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara fled to Mauritania during the 1970s because of a war for independence in their homeland.

A UN registration program during 1998-99 found that about 25,000 Sahrawis in Mauritania were eligible for eventual 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 2000, however. Uncertainty about the political future of Western Sahara deterred the refugees from returning home.

Sahrawi refugees in Mauritania remained largely self-sufficient. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid agencies had virtually no contact with them.

Population from Mali

About 4,000 Malians who fled to Mauritania during the mid-1990s remained there during 2000 despite peace in Mali. UNHCR no longer considered them to be refugees and has encouraged the population to return home. The Malians lived without assistance in a former refugee camp near the Mauritania-Mali border.

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.

Mauritanian authorities claimed that the refugee populations were not Mauritanian citizens. 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 2000 and the total number who have repatriated in recent years were matters of conjecture. UNHCR estimated that about 25,000 Mauritanians remained refugees in neighboring countries. A Mauritanian human rights organization, however, estimated that 60,000 or more were still refugees.

An estimated 1,000 Mauritanian refugees spontaneously repatriated from Senegal during 2000. UNHCR's assistance program for returnees ended in 1998.

The Mauritanian government's treatment of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 Mauritanian refugees who returned home during the late 1990s varied significantly. UNHCR reported that most returnees recovered their land and identity papers, but some reports disagreed with that assessment. The government operated a land reform program, ostensibly to provide land to returnees and other landless families, but many refugees labeled the program unfair. Some returnees managed to regain their previous land; some received new property; others failed to receive compensation of any kind from local authorities.

UNHCR did not regularly monitor southern Mauritania's returnee areas during 2000. Ethnic tensions and banditry have historically afflicted the remote area. Local police have been accused of beating returnees at some locations in previous years. In an incident during 2000, local police committed abuses against 80 black Mauritanians in the country's southwest, according to the World Organization Against Torture, an international human rights organization. It was unclear whether the 80 victims were returned refugees.

Returnees have complained that government officials have regularly denied citizenship to returnees. A "Declaration of Mauritanian Refugees" issued by refugee groups in mid-2000 charged that most returnees had not received official identity cards to verify their citizenship. The declaration complained that the lack of identity papers hampered returnees' travel within Mauritania, and alleged that many returnees have subsequently fled again to neighboring countries.

Mauritanian refugee leaders have indicated that the remaining refugee population would repatriate only if Mauritanian officials guarantee their citizenship, compensate them for their losses, and allow UNHCR to assist and protect all returnees.

Mauritanian authorities have refused to acknowledge blanket citizenship for the entire refugee population. The government has insisted on evaluating citizenship claims on a case-by-case basis.

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