Approximately 10,000 Senegalese were refugees at the end of 2002, including some 6,000 in Guinea-Bissau and about 5,000 in Gambia.
An estimated 5,000 people were internally displaced. At least 10,000 Senegalese became newly uprooted during 2002, but many of them returned home a few weeks or months later.
Senegal hosted nearly 45,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002, including an estimated 40,000 from Mauritania, and about 5,000 from various other countries.
A low-level armed insurgency has continued sporadically in southern Senegal's Casamance Province for 20 years, forcing thousands of Senegalese from their homes.
Insurgent leaders have charged that Casamance Province is politically and economically marginalized, and have demanded independence or greater political autonomy.
A cease-fire negotiated in 1999 curtailed violence, and a peace agreement in 2001 pledged the safe return of all refugees, the release of prisoners, clearance of landmines, and economic support for demobilized combatants.
Some rebel factions opposed the accord and renewed their attacks in mid-2001, temporarily pushing more than 10,000 new refugees into neighboring countries that year.
A highway ambush by rebel combatants in early 2002 killed several politicians of Senegal's ruling party and triggered forceful counterinsurgency measures by government troops, including artillery shelling against rebel strongholds.
The government military offensive caused 10,000 to 20,000 Senegalese to flee their homes during May and June. About half fled to neighboring Gambia, while others sought safety at the homes of friends and relatives inside Senegal.
Most newly uprooted families rapidly returned home when violence subsided in the second half of the year.
The International Committee of the Red Cross conducted training sessions in Casamance Province for government soldiers and civilians about humanitarian law and combatants' obligations in conflicts.
Refugees from Mauritania
An estimated 40,000 refugees who had fled Mauritania more than ten years ago continued to live in Senegal during 2002. 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 because authorities have not conducted a formal census since 1995. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained only limited contact with the refugee population, estimated that some 20,000 remained in Senegal.
A Mauritanian exile group claimed that nearly three times that number resided in Senegal.
Most refugee families remained settled at 200 sites stretching some 400 miles (approximately 600 km) along the Senegal River, which forms the border with Mauritania.
Since 1996, most have supported themselves with minimal help from UNHCR. Some refugees received modest assistance for health care, education, and access to clean drinking water.
In 2000, the Senegalese government abruptly halted efforts to register Mauritanian refugees and provide them with identity cards. The government initially cited planned changes in its refugee administrative system as the reason for the delay.
The registration process remained stalled in 2002. Some 500 Mauritanian refugees applied for permanent residency in Senegal several years ago, but Senegalese authorities have not acted on their request.
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.