14,000 Mauritanian refugees still live in Senegal

Undocumented to justify their origins or apply for Senegalese citizenship, a stateless population lives on the banks of the Senegal River.

In April 1989, a border dispute between Mauritania and Senegal degenerated into intercommunity violence. More than 60 000 Mauritanians then fled to Senegal and Mali. In fact, the conflict has served as a pretext for widespread ethnic cleansing in Mauritania. The Arab and Berber ruling classes expelled the black people of Peul origin manu militari. Two birds with one stone : On the one hand, the government has eliminated a militant opposition that is well represented among civil servants and, on the other hand, has seized highly coveted land along the Senegal River. A river that the black population was asked to cross as quickly as possible.

At the time of exile, this population dispersed on the other bank, along the Senegal river valley, to 280 sites. Historically, people on each side of this natural border have forged ties, hence the large number of these falling points, often linked to family ties.

Today, and despite the repatriation operations, there are still more than 14 000 Mauritanians to live in camps in Senegal and as many in Mali.

Among those who have returned to the country, thousands live in a very precarious situation, despite the repatriation agreement signed in 2007. The program led by the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has enabled the return of more than 24 000 Mauritanians and ended in 2012.

It provided for reintegration actions “in the areas of housing … as well as in the context of agricultural or livestock projects and income-generating programs”, as the UNHCR explained at the time. However, not all of them have been restored to their rights. Some, in particular, were unable to recover land and live in great destitution.

The 14 000 Mauritanians who are still in Senegal are not better off. They live in refugee camps, notably that of Thiabakh in the city of Richard-Toll, on the banks of the Senegal river. Several thousand would like to acquire Senegalese citizenship, which is not so simple, by the admission of the UNHCR. “It is a question of putting together the documents and it is a thorny problem because most of them have arrived without any documents. Some have also had children which they have not declared”, recognizes the representative of the UN organization.

As for everyday life, it is an everyday struggle. “Since I was a child, I have lived in poverty, without work, without support”, confides 30-year-old refugee to website journalist Amandla Thomas-Johnson Middle east eyes.

Aid from the Red Cross and the United Nations was not eternal. And without them, life quickly proved to be an ordeal. The land gave nothing. And for lack of money, the children have been, or very little, schooled. The classic gear of misery.

The little work there is, the men go to look for in a private plantation at hours of walking. Depending on the will of the officials, they may or may not cut grass or collect dead wood which they will sell for misery.

Defense associations for these refugees regularly sound the alarm. They claim in particular getting papers for everyone. Many are in fact in an irregular situation and therefore cannot look for work. As for those who want to return to Mauritania, for lack of documents, their citizenship is not recognized to them.


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