- After living in Senegal for 20 years, thousands of Mauritanian refugees will soon return to their country of origin.
A deal establishing the judicial framework of the voluntary repatriation and integration in the northern Senegal was signed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the governments of Mauritania and Senegal.
More than 60,000 Mauritanians fled to the neighbouring Senegal and Mali in April 1989 when a protracted border dispute between Mauritania and Senegal turned into ethnic violence.
A survey conducted by UNHCR and Senegal showed that at least 24,000 Mauritanian refugees living in Senegal wanted to return home.
Apart from transporting them to their country of origin, the UNHCR will also help the refugees to integrate successfully. Each of the refugees will benefit from a three month food aid and housing.
UNHCR is also determined to make basic services [education and health] available to the repatriated refugees.
The voluntary repatriation programme, which is scheduled to be completed in 17 months, will take off in December when at least 2,000 refugees will arrive home.
Mauritanian President, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, called on all Mauritanian refugees to make a final homecoming.
The signing ceremony, which took place in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, was hailed by the UN refugee agency officials, describing it as a solution to one of the most protracted refugee situations in Africa.
The development is expected to boost donor response to the agency's US $7 million appeal for the purpose.
The refugee agency had earlier facilitated the reintegration of 35,000 Mauritanian refugees.
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