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3 1/2 years later Mauritanian returnees still await restoration of citizenship, reparation

By June 20, 2011September 16th, 2019No Comments

Three and a half years later: Mauritanian returnees still await restoration of citizenship documents and reparation

IHRDA Statement on World Refugee Day, June 20 2011

“… take diligent measures to replace the national identity documents of those Mauritanian citizens, which were taken from them at the time of their expulsion and ensure their return without delay to Mauritania we well as the restitution of the belongings looted from them at the time of the said expulsion; and to take the necessary steps for the reparation for the deprivations of the victims of the above cited events…”
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Decision on Communications 54/91, 61/91, 98/93, 164-97-169-97 and 210/98, Malawi African Association & Ors v Mauritania, recommendation 2.

The restoration of citizenship documentation is a pillar of international protection in the context of voluntary repatriation. It concretises the enjoyment of citizenship rights of returnees and former refugees and consequently, their entitlement to public services, other privileges and opportunities which citizens benefit from.

As we celebrate the 2011 World Refugee Day, the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) would like to express its growing concern regarding the implementation of the above-cited recommendation of the ACmHPR decision. The repatriation of refugees, their restoration to full citizenship and reparation to pre-expulsion state has been brought to a near halt.

In December 2009, the Mauritanian government decided to bring to a standstill the issuance of identity documents to returnees until it conducted a population census. However, this national census only began in May 2011. In the intermittent period, returnees have remained without full citizenship documentation as required by the ACmHPR decision and Tripartite Agreement[1] on Voluntary Repatriation. Furthermore, given that the process of documentation restoration had already accumulated delays in 2008[2] and 2009, scores of returnees have still not received their identity documents to date despite their return as far back as 2008. A hold up in the issuance of identity documents in turn affects the issuance of certification for births, deaths, marriage, education, land title, voter registration and other documentation. In fact, most returnees only hold a “returnees census sheet” which records their particulars and is issued upon reception at the border entry points.

Of particular concern is the Mauritanian authorities’ failure to ease the documentation process by adapting the administrative procedures to the context of the return. For instance, under normal circumstances, a Mauritanian citizen needs to present the nationality certification application with their parents’ ID cards. However, since the returnees’ documentation was seized and destroyed during the 1989 expulsions, many expellees and their children cannot get nationality documentation under the normal procedure. In addition, the very high rate of transcript errors is impeding issuance of documentation. In Medina Salam, for instance, 67 ID cards have been processed out of the thousands required but only three could be issued as the rest (64 cards) had name spelling errors. In the Trarza region, children born since the return also cannot receive birth certification as their parents have no documentation. This is creating a new wave of de facto statelessness among the returnees population subjected to forced denationalisation in 1989.

Still in exile

Between January 2008 and December 2010, 20,433 refugees were repatriated from Senegal back to Mauritania under the aegis of the Tripartite Agreement signed by Senegal, Mauritania and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in November 2007. However, as at end of May 2011, there were still approximately 7,000 refugees registered for voluntary return out of 20,000[3] remaining in Senegal. In addition, a further estimated 13,000 remain in Mali awaiting the conclusion of a similar tripartite agreement to govern their voluntary repatriation.

Obstacles in accessing social services and freedom of movement

As with the restoration of identity documentation, returnees continue to face difficulties in accessing social services. Water and sanitation facilities in several returnee sites remain poor. The returnees also remain impoverished due to their inability to access their original land. Associated to such inaccessibility, one can point the lack of employment and the possibility of subsistence farming

Returnees children who began their studies in Senegal face major hurdles in reinsertion due to the difference in the language of instruction (in Senegal French is used while Arabic is the language of instruction in Mauritania). There is a severe shortage of classrooms, learning materials and teachers, to the point that some returnees are opting to send their children back to Senegal to continue accessing education suitable to their needs.

Health facilities are few and far between. In the Brakna region for instance, there is a hospital at Bogué and a health centre at Bababé. However, due to rampant unemployment, returnees can barely afford to travel to these health facilities, let along raise the money to cover the treatment charges.

Returnees who have not yet received the ID cards are also restricted from moving out of the returnee sites, making them virtual prisoners of administrative procedures.


Whereas the Mauritanian government may have specific justifications for its actions, such as to halt cases of alleged corruption and fraudulent issuance of identity documentation to non-citizens along its borders, the entire voluntary return process cannot be jeopardised. Government functions cannot be put under a blanket freeze due to the possibility of fraud. The Government of Mauritania must instead investigate and use related procedures to address fraud as it would do in other registration centres around the country.

IHRDA and its civil society partners therefore reiterate their concern on the state of the return process and its related reparation processes as previously expressed[4] and “urges the Mauritanian government to double its efforts towards commitment to the above mentioned African Commission decision and the Tripartite Agreement signed by Mauritania, Senegal and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on 12 November 2007”[5].

IHRDA also calls on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACmHPR) to recommit itself to engaging closely with and monitoring the situation of the returnees who sought its protection in the 1990s and ensure the full implementation of its recommendations under decision 54/91, 61/91, 98/93, 164-97-169-97 and 210/98, Malawi African Association & Ors v Mauritania.

Table showing state of national identity card issuance

Nota: No ID card has been delivered since December 2009. The situation remains unchanged

Source: UNHCR- Nouakchott

Identity Cards
Regions Persons registered as of 31/10/2009 Persons entitled to ID card as of 08/02/2011 persons identified as of 31/10/2009 by the ID card data system ID cards produced as of 31/10/2009 ID Cards distributed as of 13/10/2009
Trarza 1418 2094 373 899 560
Brakna 5838 7300 1428 3269 2358
Gorgol 139 485 8 128 41
Guidimakha 35 81 5 30 30
Assaba 41 227 9 32 32
Total 7471 10187 1823 4358 3021

Table showing state of birth certificate issuance

summary follow-up of the distribution of Birth certificates (herein copies intégrales)

Source: UNHCR-Nouakchott

Registrar (Etat civil)/ Birth Certificate
Regions Total Returnee populations total returnee population verified Returnees that recived CoB % of returnee population holding CoB
Trarza 4154 3036 1726 41
Brakna 14615 13857 8980 61
Gorgol 1104 648 304 27
Guidimakha 164 164 70 42
Assaba 447 391 101 22
Total 20484 18096 11181 55

[1] The Senegal-Mauritania-UNHCR Tripartite Agreement was signed on November 15 2007 by the three parties to govern the voluntary repatriation of Mauritania exiles in Senegal.

[2] IHRDA Briefing Paper on the return of expelled Mauritanians following the August 6th 2008 coup, October 2008; IHRDA-FONADH Statement before the ACmHPR at the 44th Ordinary Session, November 7-22 2008; IHRDA Statement on World Refugee Day 2009; IHRDA-FONADH Statement before the ACmHPR at the 46th Ordinary Session, November 11-25 2009.

[3] There are approximately 13,000 refugees in Senegal who have not expressed the wish to come back to Mauritania.

[4] IHRDA Briefing Paper on the return of expelled Mauritanians following the August 6th 2008 coup, October 2008; IHRDA-FONADH Statement before the ACmHPR at the 44th Ordinary Session, November 7-22 2008; IHRDA Statement on World Refugee Day 2009; IHRDA-FONADH Statement before the ACmHPR at the 46th Ordinary Session, November 11-25 2009.

[5] IHRDA Statement on World Refugee Day 2009.