Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2009 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 17 June 2009
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2009 - Mauritania, 17 June 2009, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Mauritania figures


Mauritania hosted some 30,600 refugees and asylum seekers, including about 26,000 ethnic Sahrawis from the disputed Western Sahara held by Morocco, many of whom moved back and forth from the camps in Tindouf, Algeria.

2008 Summary

The Government deported three refugees during the year, two Ivorians and a Liberian. The Ivorians were reportedly trying to leave the country illegally. Mauritania expelled hundreds of other migrants to Mali or Senegal after Spain returned them to Mauritania from the Canary Islands in accordance with the 2003 readmission agreement.

Authorities detained nearly 30 refugees and asylum seekers during the year.

During the year, more than 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered in Mauritania, the largest number coming from Sudan. The Government started a systematic method to register asylum requests and all recognized refugees by the Ministry of Interior, but many of the cases UNHCR referred to the ministry did not receive status from the Government.

During 2008, the Government issued documents to 775 refugees and asylum seekers. At the end of the year, the Ministry of Interior began to prepare refugee identity cards card.

One Congolese and 15 Ivorian refugees repatriated. Some reportedly mentioned problems with police as their reason for repatriating,.

In February, security forces arrested several refugees without cause, releasing them a day later.

In March, three Malians reported that soldiers beat and robbed them as they arrested the Malians.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Mauritania is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugees in Africa, all without reservation, and its 1991 Constitution provided that international treaties were a superior authority to national law. The Constitution also prohibits extradition except according to international law and extradition treaties.

In 2004, Mauritania became the first country in North Africa to adopt a national refugee law. Under the 2005 decree, the Ministry of Interior created the National Consultative Commission for Refugees (NCCR) through which asylum seekers could apply for protection. The Decree states that application for refugee status must be addressed to the Ministry of Interior or UNHCR, and applicants receive a receipt that can serve as a provisional residence permit. NCCR examines requests and gives an opinion to the Minister of Interior who will decide whether to grant refugee status.

The 2005 Decree states Mauritania can only expel refugees for security reasons , but it does not offer migrants a chance to appeal expulsion orders.

The Government cooperates with UNHCR, European Commission and Spain in returning migrants trying to reach the Canary islands.

The Government operated a migrant reception center and gave UNHCR access to returned migrants to determine their eligibility as refugees. In accordance with the agreements with the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) the Government allowed West African migrants to remain, and deported only those caught in the act of illegally attempting to travel to the Canary Islands.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities detained many migrants in transit to and from Europe, some of whom may have been refugees, including some with legal immigration status in Mauritania, whom authorities merely suspected of attempting to migrate to Europe. Overcrowding prevented the separation of convicted criminals from merely suspects, let alone from immigration detainees. The UN Working Group on Detention also noted restricted access to medical care and violence for prisoners in a February 2008 visit. The Government did, however, give UNHCR and ICRC permission to meet detainees.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The threat of identity checks hindered the movement of asylum seekers. Refugees with UNHCR attestations, however, could move freely.

The Government did not issue international travel documents to refugees. The 3 March 2005 Decree states that refugees with granted status can travel abroad with travel permit.

Mauritanian authorities and 20 Spanish civil guards conducted surveillance and interdiction operations at sea to prevent migrants from reaching Spain's Canary Islands.

The Government maintained 100 police and gendarmerie checkpoints along the border with Mali and Senegal and the International Organization for Migration helped it to open 5 more.

The Constitution reserved its protection of freedom of movement and residence and the right to leave the country to citizens.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The 2005 decree declares refugees had the same right to work, health care, social security and education as nationals. However, since they lacked government documents, refugees could not receive work permits from the Government. Nevertheless, most worked in the informal sector for lower wages and under worse conditions than nationals did and almost never with social security coverage. Movement restrictions also hindered their ability to work.

While the Government recognizes diplomas from French- and Arabic-speaking countries, the European Union, and North America, graduates from other African countries and elsewhere had to take individual exams.

Some refugees started businesses that the authorities recognized as legitimate.

Some refugees, especially those from Sierra Leone, found work as teachers in official schools.

Refugees did not have access to agricultural land even though the Constitution included general protections for private property and did not reserve them for citizens, and expressly protected the property of foreigners. It reserved its protection of intellectual property, equality in taxation, and the right to join unions and engage in commerce, however, for citizens.

Public Relief and Education

Although it did not mention asylum seekers, the 2005 decree offered refugees the right to health services and education on par with nationals and they enjoyed it in practice as well, sometimes with UNHCR's help with expenses, and authorities included asylum seekers under a broad, prima facie presumption. Free services at municipal clinics required prefectural registration, however, which was difficult to obtain. Free clinics for HIV/AIDS diagnoses, counseling, and treatment accepted refugees on par with nationals.

Mauritanian schools work in Arabic and French, so UNHCR assists refugee families with private language lessons. All children of primary school age are enrolled in school. Although access to public school is free, refugees often choose private schools with curriculums in French.

The Government cooperates with UNHCR and there were no reports that Mauritania hindered humanitarian aid to refugees, but Mauritania did not include refugees in the October 2006 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper nor in the Country Assistance Strategy that it prepared for international donors in January and June 2007, respectively.

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