Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Mauritania , 1 June 2003, 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 2002. Nearly 4,000 persons from Mali continued to reside in Mauritania in refugee-like circumstances.

More than 45,000 Mauritanians were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2002, including an estimated 40,000 in Senegal and 7,000 asylum seekers in Europe and other Western countries.

About 5,000 Mauritanians lived in Mali in refugee-like circumstances.

Refugees from Western Sahara

Ethnic Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara fled to Mauritania during the 1970s to escape a war of independence in their homeland. In 2002, as in previous years, uncertainty about the political future of Western Sahara deterred the refugee population from returning home.

Sahrawi refugees in Mauritania were largely self-sufficient, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (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. Sahrawi refugees traveled frequently between Mauritania and Algeria to visit family members.

Populations from Mali

About 4,000 Malians who fled to Mauritania in the mid-1990s remained there during 2002 despite peace in Mali.

The Malian population lived without assistance in southeastern Mauritania's remote Bassikounou area near the Mali border.

Neither UNHCR nor Mauritanian officials had much contact with the population. UNHCR has encouraged the Malian population to return home since the late-1990s, but most of the population remained unwilling to repatriate and appeared to be permanently settled in Mauritania.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees considered the Malians to be living in refugee-like circumstances.

Refugees from Mauritania

Following ethnic conflict, the government expelled approximately 75,000 black Mauritanians from the country during 1989–90, primarily to Senegal. Some human rights organizations at the time accused the government of practicing apartheid.

Mauritanian authorities also barred some 15,000 nomadic Mauritanians from returning home from Mali.

Mauritanian officials 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 2002 and the total number who have gradually repatriated since the mid-1990s were uncertain.

Mauritanian human rights organizations estimated that 60,000 or more people were still refugees, while UNHCR estimated that fewer than half that number remained refugees. Approximately 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.

UNHCR has offered a more positive assessment, however, reporting 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, banditry, and drought.

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