At the end of 1999, Mali hosted about 7,000 refugees, including more than 5,000 refugees from Mauritania and some 2,000 from other African countries.

Approximately 2,000 Malians remained refugees at the end of 1999, primarily in Niger. No Malian refugees were known to have repatriated during 1999.

Repatriation of Malian Refugees

Conflict during 1991-94 between ethnic Tuareg insurgents and Malian government troops forced tens of thousands of Tuareg and ethnic Moor civilians to flee to neighboring countries.

The true number of Malian refugees was unknown because of the Tuaregs' nomadic lifestyle and their remote locations in the Sahara Desert, where national borders had no practical meaning. Some asylum countries regarded many Tuaregs as economic migrants rather than refugees. Tuareg political groups, meanwhile, regularly asserted that the size of the Tuareg refugee population was far greater than the estimates cited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies.

An estimated 120,000 Malians repatriated during 1995-97, some with UNHCR assistance and many on their own. Another 10,000 Malians returned during 1998 from neighboring countries. About 8,000 repatriated with UNHCR assistance.

The refugees repatriated to desolate areas of northern Mali long neglected by Malian officials. Aid workers warned that the lack of services in returnee regions could create dissatisfaction among returnees that might trigger new violence.

In 1999, UNHCR ended its four-year repatriation and reintegration program in northern Mali. Approximately 300,000 refugees, displaced persons, and other local residents benefited from the program, which provided development assistance to returnee areas.

Refugees from Mauritania

About 5,000 refugees continued to live in southwestern Mali's Kayes region, near the Mauritanian border. Few were officially registered as refugees.

Most Mauritanian refugees were ethnic Peuhls, herders whose traditional livelihood relied on cross-border migrations. In 1989-90, Mauritanian officials expelled them from Mauritania and barred those outside the country from returning.

In June 1999, UNHCR completed its assistance program for Mauritanian refugees. At year's end, the remaining 5,000 Mauritanian refugees were locally integrated and unlikely to return to Mauritania.

UNHCR operated a limited program in Mali for about 2,000 urban refugees of various nationalities at year's end.


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