Approximately 10,000 Senegalese were refugees at the end of 2001, including about 6,000 in Guinea-Bissau and an estimated 5,000 in Gambia. Some 5,000 Senegalese were internally displaced. Approximately 15,000 Senegalese became newly uprooted during 2001, but many of them returned home a few months later.
Senegal hosted more than 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2001, including an estimated 40,000 from Mauritania, and about 3,000 from various other African countries.
A low-level armed insurgency has continued sporadically in southern Senegal's Casamance Province for 17 years, forcing thousands of Senegalese from their homes. Insurgent attacks and strong countermeasures by the Senegalese military uprooted as many as 40,000 people when violence peaked in the 1990s. The insurgents demanded independence or greater political autonomy for Casamance Province.
A cease-fire negotiated in late 1999 reduced – but did not eliminate – violence during 2000. A peace agreement signed in March 2001 pledged the safe return of all refugees, the mutual release of prisoners, clearance of landmines, and economic support for demobilized combatants.
Factions within the rebel movement opposed the accord, sparking renewed clashes in mid-2001. Rebel factions fought each other, launched an offensive against government forces, and looted numerous villages. Up to 200 persons died in the surge of violence, according to some reports. Government soldiers reportedly burned houses in pursuit of the rebels, who regularly moved back and forth across Senegal's border with Guinea-Bissau.
The conflict "continues to threaten the stability of both Senegal and Guinea-Bissau," several UN humanitarian agencies warned in April after a joint assessment mission. "Landmines in both Casamance and Guinea-Bissau will prove a long-term hazard for civilians."
The violence pushed some 10,000 to 15,000 new Senegalese refugees into neighboring Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, where they temporarily joined thousands of Senegalese refugees who had fled in previous years. A large percentage of the new refugees returned to Senegal within two months, however. Many returnees found their homes damaged.
As in previous years, the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored the needs of displaced families. Concerns about food shortages prompted the World Food Program (WFP) to launch an emergency food project in Casamance Province in October, but the agency reported that poor support by donor nations left WFP with only half the resources required. Catholic Relief Services continued a project to help reconstruct houses and offer small business loans to displaced persons returning to their homes.
Refugees from Mauritania
An estimated 40,000 refugees who had fled Mauritania more than ten years earlier continued to live in Senegal during 2001. The Mauritanian government originally expelled the population during 1989-90, claiming they were Senegalese nationals rather than Mauritanian citizens.
The exact number of refugees was uncertain. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained only limited contact with the refugee population, estimated that some 20,000 remained in Senegal during 2001. A Mauritanian exile group claimed that nearly three times that number resided in Senegal.
Most refugee families have settled at 200 sites stretching some 400 miles (approximately 600 km) along the Senegal River, which forms the border with Mauritania. Several thousand other refugees have reportedly migrated to other parts of Senegal.
Most Mauritanian refugees have supported themselves with minimal help from UNHCR since 1996. Some refugees received modest assistance for health care, education, and access to clean drinking water during the year. Senegalese authorities have provided books and teachers to Mauritanian students and have attempted to integrate refugee children into the local school system. Mauritanian refugee leaders declared in 2000 that UNHCR had "abandoned" them to poor health care and malnutrition.
The Senegalese government abruptly halted efforts to register Mauritanian refugees and provide them with identity cards in 2000. The registration process remained stalled during 2001, even though UNHCR reported that the agency's "prime objective is to formalize [the refugees'] legal status in the country." Some 500 Mauritanian refugees have applied for permanent residency in Senegal, citing economic and ethnic ties to the country.
Refugee leaders have regularly asserted that the population will not repatriate from Senegal until the Mauritanian government guarantees their citizenship and reimburses them for lost property. No formal repatriation program existed during 2001, but small numbers of refugees might have repatriated without the knowledge or assistance of Senegalese authorities or UNHCR.