Mauritania: refugee repatriation begins —as democratic transition founders

<em>Mauritanian refugees in Senegal</em>” title=”<em>Mauritanian refugees in Senegal</em>” class=”image thumbnail” height=”75″ width=”100″></a><span class=Mauritanian refugees in SenegalMauritania’s new government resigned July 3, pre-empting a no-confidence motion filed by dissidents from the ruling National Pact for Democracy and Development (PNDD). But President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi immediately reappointed Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf. (AFP, July 3) The no-confidence measure was also supported by the main opposition parties, the Democratic Forces Rally (RFD) and New Forces for Change (NFC). NFC Prime Minister Zeine Ould Zeidane was forced to resign in early May, after a year in office marked by a food crisis and terror attacks. Opposition leaders denounced the return to office of many officials from the Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya dictatorship, ousted in 2005. (Afriquenligne, July 3)

The shake-up comes just as Black African Mauritanians expelled from their homeland by the dictatorship in a wave of ethnic cleansing in 1989 have started to return from Senegal, as part of an ongoing repatriation process run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since January, some 4,000 Black Mauritanians have returned home. (IRIN, June 23)

The repatriation came about through the efforts of the FLAM-Renovation opposition party, which began petitioning for the return of the more than 25,000 Mauritanian refugees in Senegal after the fall of the dictatorship. (IRIN, March 3, 2006) FLAM-Renovation is a group that broke from the exile-based African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM) to participate in Mauritania’s ostensible return to democracy. FLAM leaders remaining in exile maintain there can be no real democratic opening in Mauritania until the issues of refugees and the persistence of internal slavery of Black Mauritanians are addressed. (WW4R, October 2006)

Ironically, the repatriation program has begun just as Mauritania is coming under criticism for its treatment of Europe-bound Black African migrants detained on its territory. A harsh detention center in the northern town of Nuadibu has become known locally as “Little Guantanamo.” Many of the 3,257 people who passed through the center in 2007 were dumped on the borders with Senegal or Mali without sufficient food or transport, Amnesty International charged, adding that often the detainees’ nationality was not even taken into account when deciding where to deport them to.

“The countries of the European Union are using countries like Mauritania to manage the flow of migrants who want to cross their territories on their way to Europe,” Amnesty’s Salvador Sagues told a news conference in Madrid. “They’ve made them into Europe’s police.” (Reuters, July 1)

See our last posts on Mauritania, the struggle in the Sahel and politics of immigration in Europe.