Mauritania repatriation operation picks up with second convoy

News Stories, 14 March 2008

© UNHCR/J.Bosteels
Mauritanian refugee children ham it up for the camera on their way home from Senegal.

ROSSO, Mauritania, March 14 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has conducted a second repatriation convoy for Mauritanian refugees in Senegal as it steps up the operation launched in January.

On Thursday, 257 refugees from 61 families were transported from four refugee sites on the southern bank of the Senegal River, which they crossed by boat before reaching the Mauritanian town of Rosso. Upon arrival, and after completing administrative formalities, they were taken back to three locations in the neighbourhood of Rosso.

"The repatriation operation will be stepped up," said Nsona Vela Do Nascimento, head of the UNHCR office in the Senegalese town of Richard-Toll. "I am all the more happy that this second convoy has repatriated more than double the number of people on the first one."

The UNHCR operation to help some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees return home after almost 20 years in exile was launched on January 29, but technical and administrative hitches held up the organization of a second convoy.

With these problems now ironed out, the refugee agency hopes to increase the pace of voluntary returns and organize bi-weekly convoys to reach a target of 3,000 returns per month. The next convoy is expected to take place on Tuesday with some 438 returnees.

Cattle farmer Yoro Ali Diallo, echoing the thoughts of others on the convoy, said before leaving Senegal that he was overjoyed to finally be going back home with the help of UNHCR. "The reports we received from those who went back in January were positive, but I would like to judge for myself."

Another returnee, Hamadou Diallo, said he was overwhelmed by the warm welcome he and his extended family had received on arriving yesterday at a transit site near Rosso. The drums beat as the returnees and locals danced and feasted late into the night.

The two Diallos and their compatriots will receive an assistance package in Mauritania, including basic domestic items such as kitchen sets, blankets, buckets, mosquito nets, soap, as well as sanitary kits from UNHCR. Returnees are also given a three-month food ration from the World Food Programme.

Each household also receives a tent as well as some construction material. In places of return, reintegration projects are being organized in the health, water and education sectors. UNHCR's partners are also undertaking the rehabilitation or rebuilding of infrastructure that will benefit both returnees and the local communities.

The first voluntary repatriation convoy took back 103 Mauritanian refugees on January 29. In total, some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees live in northern Senegal and could benefit from UNHCR's assistance to return to their home country.

In April 1989, a long-standing border dispute between Mauritania and Senegal escalated into ethnic violence. Some 60,000 Mauritanians fled to Senegal and Mali.

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

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The UN refugee agency has just renewed its appeal for funds to help meet the needs of tens of thousands of Malian refugees and almost 300,000 internally displaced people. The funding UNHCR is seeking is needed, among other things, for the provision of supplementary and therapeutic food and delivery of health care, including for those suffering from malnutrition. This is one of UNHCR's main concerns in the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania, which hosts more than 70,000 Malians. A survey on nutrition conducted last January in the camp found that more than 13 per cent of refugee children aged under five suffer from acute malnutrition and more than 41 per cent from chronic malnutrition. Several measures have been taken to treat and prevent malnutrition, including distribution of nutritional supplements to babies and infants, organization of awareness sessions for mothers, increased access to health facilities, launch of a measles vaccination campaign and installation of better water and sanitation infrastructure. Additional funding is needed to improve the prevention and response mechanisms. UNHCR appealed last year for US$144 million for its Mali crisis operations in 2013, but has received only 32 per cent to date. The most urgent needs are food, shelter, sanitation, health care and education.

The photographs in this set were taken by Bechir Malum.

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

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