Mauritanian refugees in Senegal on hunger strike
DAKAR - A group of black Mauritanians who were expelled to Senegal following racial unrest in 1989 said Tuesday they had been on hunger strike for a week to demand relocation to a third country.
About 30 youths, women and elderly people lay on plastic mats or the ground in front of the United Nations refugee agency in Dakar.
"We have been on hunger strike since June 19 to demand a transfer to a third country, in Africa or in Europe, where our problems will be taken care of," Abdourahmane Sy, a leader of the Coordination of Associations of Mauritanian Refugees in Senegal, said.
"We don't want to return to Mauritania and live in tents with two goats as aid. In Senegal our housing, food and employment problems are getting worse every day."
He said some 200 had begun the hunger strike but only 150 remained.
The Mauritanians were among tens of thousands of members of the Peul, Wolof, Soninke and Bambara ethnic groups expelled from their own country to live in refugee camps in northen Senegal in 1989.
Earlier that year conflict had broken out along the border between Mauritania and Senegal over grazing rights.
As the conflict spread to the capitals black Africans were targeted and killed because of their skin colour, rights groups reported.
Both countries agreed to repatriate the other's citizens to stem the bloodshed, which led to the summary expulsion of thousands of black Mauritanian citizens to Senegal in the process.
A source at the UN refugee agency said that after an agreement signed in 2007, Mauritanians were given the choice between returning to their country or being integrated locally.
By the end of the operation in March, 24,000 had been repatriated and 14,000 had decided to to stay.