Senegal hosted more than 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000, including an estimated 40,000 refugees from Mauritania, and about 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers from various other African countries.

Some 10,000 Senegalese were refugees at the end of 2000, including about 5,000 in Guinea-Bissau and 5,000 in Gambia. An estimated 5,000 Senegalese were internally displaced.

Refugees from Mauritania

Mauritanian authorities expelled tens of thousands of people into Senegal in 1989-90, claiming they were Senegalese nationals rather than Mauritanian citizens. Although an estimated 30,000 to 60,000 expellees gradually returned to Mauritania during the 1990s, an estimated 40,000 remained in Senegal in 2000.

The exact number of refugees in Senegal was uncertain. Most refugee families have settled into 200 sites stretching some 400 miles (approximately 600 km) along the Senegal River, which forms the border with Mauritania. Several thousand refugees have reportedly migrated to other parts of Senegal. Most refugees have supported themselves without assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 1996.

UNHCR maintained only limited contact with the refugee population. The agency estimated that some 20,000 remained in Senegal during 2000. A Mauritanian exile group claimed that nearly three times that number resided in Senegal.

The Senegalese government abruptly halted efforts to register the refugee population and provide them with identity cards in mid-2000. UNHCR reported that the government's National Eligibility Commission would probably require Mauritanians to submit new individual asylum claims, although the precise rules and process were uncertain.

"The [asylum] claims of Mauritanian refugees have systematically been eliminated by the Commission of Eligibility without being examined," a public declaration by Mauritanian refugees stated in May. The refugees charged that UNHCR had "abandoned" them. The refugees' written declaration complained of inadequate health care, particularly for malaria, and stated that some refugees suffered malnutrition because "the majority survive on one meal per day."

Senegalese authorities have provided books and teachers to Mauritanian students and have attempted to integrate refugee children into the local Senegalese school system.

The written declaration by the refugee population in mid-2000 reiterated that the refugees would not repatriate until the Mauritanian government guarantees their citizenship and reimburses them for lost property. The refugees insisted that UNHCR must provide assistance and protection should repatriation occur.

Some refugee families have indicated they want to remain permanently in Senegal because of ethnic, family, and economic ties to the area. Senegal's new democratically elected president, voted into office in March, publicly promised to help the refugees either repatriate or become permanent citizens. An estimated 1,000 refugees left Senegal and returned to Mauritania in 2000.

Refugees from Various Countries

Approximately 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers from various other countries resided in Senegal at the end of 2000. Most were from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Rwanda and lived in or near the capital, Dakar.

Uprooted Senegalese

Armed conflict continued in southern Senegal's Casamance Province during the year despite an official cease-fire.

Insurgents advocating the separation of Casamance Province from the rest of Senegal engaged in armed attacks and ambushes throughout the 1990s, provoking strong counter-measures by the Senegalese military. The civilian population has suffered abuse by both sides.

Landmines have rendered 80 percent of farm land unusable in some areas of Casamance Province, resulting in some 500 deaths since 1997, according to a local human rights organization.

The insurgency uprooted as many as 40,000 people at its peak during the 1990s. Some 15,000 people remained uprooted during 2000, including 10,000 refugees in neighboring countries and some 5,000 internally displaced Senegalese.

The government and insurgent groups agreed to a cease-fire in December 1999 that officially continued throughout 2000. Violence occasionally erupted, however. Two government soldiers died in a skirmish with insurgents near Senegal's border with Guinea-Bissau in April. The government accused rebels of killing several civilians in an artillery attack in May.

Local villagers closed a key border crossing in July after insurgents attacked border communities from their bases in Guinea-Bissau. Rebels accused government soldiers of killing civilians in August in retaliation for rebel raids. Five villagers died in a landmine explosion in December.

The dangerous conditions prevented UNHCR from establishing an office in Casamance Province to prepare for eventual repatriation of refugees. A UNHCR assessment in October concluded that repatriation would be unsafe. In June, some 700 persons fled their homes near the border because of an attack by rebels. In July, 3,000 people living at a site for displaced persons fled their shelters because of security incidents. The Senegalese Red Cross provided 12 pounds of rice and six pounds of millet to the neediest uprooted families.

A local women's organization staged a major march in Casamance Province to demand an end to the insurgency and the return home of uprooted Senegalese. Negotiations to reach a permanent peace accord continued during the year but failed to reach a final resolution. Government authorities agreed to lift a ban on political organizing by the rebel coalition, and rebel leaders pledged that they would not push for full independence of the Casamance region at the current stage of peace talks.

Senegal's new president pledged to continue direct negotiations with rebel leaders.


This 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.