Returning to Mauritania

After 20 years as a refugee in Senegal, Benta heads home.

    Benta has returned home to Mauritania 
    after nearly 20 years in exile
    In the coming months, up to 24,000 Mauritanians will return home after almost 20 years in exile.


    Many have been living in refugee camps in Senegal since a minor border dispute escalated into deadly ethnic riots in 1989.


    Some black Mauritanians later returned on a voluntary basis, but the vast majority remained in Senegal.


    In 2002, the Mauritanian government confirmed it would deny rights for black Mauritanians, as well as the descendants of slaves.


    Three years later, troops seized government buildings, announced the overthrow of Ould Taya, Mauritania's president, and established military rule.


    Last year, Mauritania elected Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi as president. He has promised to bring all refugees home as soon as possible.


    Benta Yero is a single mother who was among those driven from their homes. Now she has said goodbye to loved ones in Senegal to go back to her original village.  

    Benta's journey in her own words

    "We celebrated before we left. We had dinner and then we sang and danced all night. The griot came and we sang songs in all languages, in Arabic, Fular, and Wolof. I had lots of fun with my friends. I do not know when I will see them again.


    I will miss them, but I must go because I cannot stay a refugee forever. More importantly, there is no place like home.

    The UN relief agency is aiding the transfer of
    Mauritanian refugees back to their country

    I took photos with me, but the one of my father is especially important. He was the owner of our house in Mauritania.


    He was also forced out and died in Senegal of a heart attack. I always have his photo with me. I always look at it to remember him.


    The trucks came. Our belongings were loaded inside the trucks and our journey back home began.


    The boat arrived in Mauritania and every type of Mauritanian was there - blacks, Arabs, officials.


    When I first set foot on Mauritanian land I was very happy, but suddenly I remembered what happened in 1989. Back then, we had to leave without any warning.


    We were expelled with no money and no clothes. We left everything behind and became refugees in Senegal. I was happy at first, but I had pain in my heart.


    New challenge


    On arriving at my old village, we were given supplies, cooking materials, pots, blankets and money. Every family got a tent to stay in.

    I was hurt and shocked to see my father's house – the house where I was born. It is completely destroyed.


    My father was an important man, but now I am poor. I am hurt that I cannot rebuild it because I am a woman and my kids are too young to do it.


    It will be difficult, but it is worth it because Senegal is not our country.


    I brought my kids here because they are Mauritanian. The restoration of our basic rights is the most important thing.


    I want my kids to grow up here so tomorrow they can grow up to be important people – leaders."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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