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Refuge and Asylum | Senegal |

Senegal Background Information Historical Trends Political Development Emigrant Population Citizenship / Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum Current Developments References

Refuge and Asylum

Felix Gerdes

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Historically, Senegal was a comparatively stable country with little repression. Accordingly, refugee movements for political reasons have not played a significant role in the country's history of migration.

Senegalese refugees

For the German authorities, Senegal is currently deemed, along with Ghana, to be one of only two "safe countries of origin" in Africa. Nonetheless, in 2005, 311 Senegalese were recognised in Germany as political refugees or had applied for asylum. Protection was granted on the basis of the applicants' involvement in a regional independence movement and opposition to the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS), which dominated politics until 2000.

Since the early 1980s a conflict in the extreme southwest between the government and the rebel secessionist movement Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques du Sénégal (MFDC) has generated an estimated 64 000 internal refugees. In recent years the number of refugees in the narrower sense has been estimated at 10 000 to 15 000, of which 2/3 are in Guinea Bissau and 1/3 in the Gambia. The UNHCR reported for 2005 that there were some 7 300 Senegalese refugees in Guinea-Bissau and 5 500 in the Gambia.

The background of Senegal's second and more important experience with forced migration lay in domestic political conflicts in Mauritania, which resulted in tension between the Arabic-speaking and the other parts of the population who often have ethnic connections with Senegal. In 1989, violent disagreements spread to Senegal, where Mauritanians were driven out and their businesses looted. The Mauritanian government ordered the expulsion of all "Senegalese" from its territory, which, in the racially-charged conflict, also affected parts of the Mauritanian population. Estimates hold that at least 200 000 people were driven out of the two countries. The situation de-escalated in the ensuing period, and some of those who had been driven out returned. Approximately
50 000 to 60 000 Senegalese are currently living in Mauritania.

Refugees in Senegal

In recent years Senegal has accommodated approximately
23 000 refugees and asylum seekers on the basis of the OAU Refugee Convention. The majority come from Mauritania
(20 000) but some also come from Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the 1989 crisis, most of the Mauritanian refugees have lived in refugee camps along the country's border, and since 1996 they have been mostly self-sufficient. They are active in agriculture and livestock, having established the current Senegalese-Mauritanian dealer networks in these fields. In June 2007 the Mauritanian government declared that it was ready to accept the return of the refugees.



  1. The Senegalese state has historically used government appointments as a means of coopting opposing political forces, although it has been known to resort to repressive measures in some cases. In connection with the war between the Senegalese state and the MFDC, Germany temporarily revoked Senegal's status as a "safe country of origin."

  2. For further information regarding the situation of these refugees see Fresia (2006).

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