MAURITANIA: Repatriated refugees returning to Senegal

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dozens of young Mauritanians recently repatriated from Senegal are crossing back over into long-time refugee communities because schools in Mauritania are not ready to take them in, according to the youths.

Hadry Yaro, 18, returned to Dodel in northern Senegal on 17 October. “There were no classrooms for us [in Mauritania]. It was as if no one expected us to be there. I need to finish school, so I came back alone and am living with my uncle in Dodel.”

Since ethnic violence and security crackdowns forced out tens of thousands of mostly black Mauritanians almost two decades ago, most have settled in the communities of Dodel and nearby N'dioum, with thousands living in Mali.

Yaro’s uncle, Amadou Samba Ba, has helped coordinate refugee activities in more than 270 refugee sites along the Mauritania-Senegal border and is Dodel’s elected refugee representative. He told IRIN Mauritanian authorities have not been able to meet the refugee students’ needs. “For the beginning of the [Mauritanian] school year [5 October] local authorities in Brakna [primary resettlement region] just started building more classrooms one month ago. For the students who cannot be accommodated yet, some have gone back to herding, and others are coming back to Senegal [for school].”

The Senegalese school year began on 13 October.

But the post-coup high commissioner of human rights and civil society, Mohamed Lamine Ould Dadde, told IRIN he had not heard of any problems enrolling refugee youth: “I conducted visits to Brakna and no one informed me of any delays that would in any way crowd out repatriated youth. There is no reason 60 youth would have to return to Senegal for schooling; that is only two classrooms, which we could have easily found.”

The UN-assisted repatriation, which began in January 2008 has settled refugees mainly in the Mauritanian border area of Brakna, which includes the communities of Boghe, Eleg and Bababe, more than 200km from the capital Nouakchott. More than 4,700 of an estimated more than 30,000 refugees who had been living in Senegal have been resettled in Mauritania, according to the UN.

Refugee representative Ba told IRIN the 6 August military coup in Mauritania effectively stopped the repatriation, and that he will not encourage any refugees to return until military leaders step down. “A military was in power when we were chased out [President Maaouya Ould Taya, 1989]. There is no guarantee for our safety for our return now that the military [under Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz] is once more at the helm. Nor is anyone taking charge of fulfilling promises President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi had made to refugees to bring us home.”

But Mauritania’s ambassador to Senegal, Mohammed Vall Ould Bellal, who has been overseeing the repatriation as the primary contact between both governments and the UN, dismissed refugees’ concerns that their needs have been sidelined by national politics. “The coup has not had any effect on repatriation efforts. It is not a simple matter to reintegrate thousands of people. There are basic needs of food, shelter and water that must be covered. Education is on the list, but we cannot get to everything at once.”

He added construction delays are due to rains and administration, not political events.