UN News Service (New York)-Some 24,000 Mauritanians, who fled to Senegal nearly two decades ago after a long-standing border dispute escalated into ethnic violence, are set to start returning home within weeks under a United Nations-backed voluntary repatriation programme.
A tripartite commission comprising the Governments of Mauritania and Senegal and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) met for the first time yesterday to work out technical questions following last November's signing of an agreement between the three parties on the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of the Mauritanians, who fled in 1989.
The parties declared they were ready to start the programme as of 28 January and that UNHCR would confirm the precise date, based on technical matters, the agency's spokesperson William Spindler told a news briefing in Geneva today.
The first convoy is expected to bring more than 100 refugees back to their home areas in Rosso ville and Medina Salam (Tekane), using motorized dugouts. Upon arrival they will receive domestic items, such as blankets, mosquito nets, soap and sanitary kits from UNHCR, as well as a three-month food ration from the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
In April 1989, a long-standing border dispute between the two countries erupted into ethnic violence, and some 60,000 Mauritanians fled to Senegal and Mali. UNHCR assisted the refugees in northern Senegal until 1995 and facilitated the reintegration of 35,000 who decided on their own accord to return home between 1996 and 1998.