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Repatriation program of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal

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INTERSOS-OFADEC meeting in Boghé (Mauritania) - Challenges and recommendation for international action

In mid March 2011 INTERSOS and OFADEC held a meeting in Boghè, Mauritania, with returnee communities they have assisted in their repatriation path from Sénégal to Mauritania. This meeting was the result of a three-year successful partnership between INTERSOS and OFADEC who have carried out a wide-reaching repatriation program in association with UNHCR. The outcome of the working groups were then assessed and reinforced by visits to the local villages to weigh the most relevant challenges faced by the local communities now that the repatriation program has come to an end.

Although the communities on the two sides of the Senegal river have much in common, some key challenges were stressed in the discussion.

First of all, during the session on education and collaboration with the Public Sector, the differences between the two educational systems, in particular regarding the language used for teaching, was highlighted as one of the major problems for returnees. While in Sénégal the official language in school is French, returnee children had to learn Arabic to integrate into the bilingual Mauritanian school system.

Another topic that brought into light the similarities in the work of INTERSOS and OFADEC was the income generating activities sector, as the challenges for access to capital and training were quite similar for refugees and returnees. Presentations on past and current projects provoked debates about how to balance assistance and independence for a population readjusting to a transition such as exile or repatriation.

Perhaps the most animated discussions took place during a session dedicated to the challenges and opportunities of agriculture activities in the context of the Mauritanian refugees still living in Senegal and repatriates. The socio-economic context of agriculture is widely known to be exceedingly different between Mauritania and Sénégal, and was even considered to be a factor in the conflict which resulted in the exile of Mauritanians in Sénégal back in 1989. Another partner of UNHCR, l’Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l¹Homme (AMDH) joined the discussion to point out an enriching and stimulating perspective coming from the Mauritanian civil society.

As the workshop neared its end, participants examined the various recommendations and lessons learned that had come up during the thematic sessions. Key lessons learned spanned the scope of activities, such as the advantage to include local community members when selecting repatriates for launching socio-economic activities. Participants also underscored the necessity for coherence and continuity between projects, particularly with regards to agriculture, income generating activities, and professional training. The session ended with a brainstorming exercise aimed to lay out a framework for continued technical exchanges between the two organizations and a tool for capitalizing shared experiences. Ideas to develop a common database and a timeline, and the proposal to prepare a publication on the experience of operating with the refugees and returnees as well, were met with enthusiasm.

INTERSOS is a Humanitarian Aid NGO who has worked in Mauritania for the last three years in partnership with Dakar-based OFADEC assisting returnees who had been hosted as refugees in Senegal. This activity, carried out in the framework of a UNHCR-led Repatriation program, is part of a wider endeavor by INTERSOS to work on cross-border pattern to ensure that movements of population are continuously monitored and their needs are followed up even when they cross national borders.