Fewer than 25,000 Mauritanian refugees residing in Senegal or returning to Mauritania are technically entitled to Mauritanian citizenship, but delayed repatriation and identity registration processes have obstructed their enjoyment of effective nationality. In the late 1980s, tens of thousands of such Mauritanians of sub-Saharan descent were expelled from their homes on the basis that they were not truly citizens due to their skin color. The majority of Mauritania’s population is lighter-skinned and of Arab descent.
In this period, some 75,000-100,000 individuals of sub-Saharan descent left Mauritania, and 15,000 nomadic Mauritanians who were in Senegal, were not allowed to return to Mauritanian territory. Over time, some of these refugees were able to return to Mauritania. In the late 1990s, UNHCR reported there were 25,000 persons who had not repatriated, while other estimates were 45,000 to 60,000. Children born in Senegal were often not registered at birth due to local difficulties.
In 2007, former Mauritanian President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi vowed to ensure the return of refugees living in Senegal and Mali. A commission was tasked with organizing consultations with all the political parties and civil society organizations to prepare for the return of their fellow citizens, in collaboration with UNHCR. Refugee leaders declared the Mauritanian government’s announcement a victory for the community. Under a November 2007 Tripartite Agreement between Mauritania, Senegal, and UNHCR, returns started in January 2008, but have experienced delays, particularly since August, when a bloodless military coup led by General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz overthrew President Abdallahi.
The coup leader vowed that the repatriation process would continue.
(see also Mauritania)