By Bakari Gueye
The last group of Mauritanian refugees in Senegal has just returned home, ending a humanitarian situation that began after an outbreak of ethnic violence in the 1980s.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, United National High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and other dignitaries were on hand to welcome the 297 Mauritanians last week in the southern city of Rosso.
“The return of all Mauritanians to their country, where conditions are now good, reflects the high level of co-operation between the two countries and the UN High Commission,” Admiral Samba Fall, special chief of staff from the office of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, said at the March 25th ceremony.
Fassa Yerim, mayor of Rosso, hailed the return as “an event of great importance and profound significance” that would “enable Mauritania to move on from a painful chapter in its history”.
Minister of the Interior and Decentralisation Mohamed Ould Boilil said the refugee crisis represented a political challenge, “but the president faced it with clear-headedness, courage and determination”.
“This is why today we are celebrating the third anniversary of the Day of National Reconciliation, which commemorates the president’s unwavering desire to heal all of the open wounds inflicted by the events of 1989, through the repatriation of our countrymen who sought refuge in Senegal, and the final resolution of the humanitarian problems.”
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said that March 25th would forever be an important day in the modern history of Mauritania, because it marked the beginning of the national reconciliation initiative to resolve humanitarian problems.
“Today we rejoice in the completion of the returns, an event that crowns the great efforts to which our partners in the tripartite agreement have paid tribute,” Ould Abdel Aziz said.
“We have sought to ensure that this process would end in satisfactory conditions in accordance with the fundamental principles of the Geneva Convention of 1951,” he added.
During a press conference at the end of the ceremony, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: “We attended a moving ceremony, during which we celebrated together the end of the organised voluntary repatriation of Mauritanians who had been in Senegal. They came back home safely and with dignity.”
“Thanks to joint efforts by the Mauritanian and Senegalese governments, with the support of the HCR, we arranged the return of more than 24,000 Mauritanians who will help to build the future of their country,” he continued. “In particular, I would like to thank the Mauritanian government for reintegrating all these Mauritanians into their home country.”
A spokesman for the group of repatriated refugees, Hamidou Oumar, expressed his gratitude “to the national authorities for the efforts made to return these citizens to their homeland”.