Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2017, 15:40 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Mauritania, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
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.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Mauritania expelled and turned back at least 11,300 undocumented migrants through the Senegalese and Malian borders. There were no reports of refoulement but, in the absence of adequate status determination procedures, it was not clear that refugees were not among the migrants.

In 2004, Mauritania became the first country in North Africa to adopt a national refugee law. Under the law, in 2005, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) created the National Consultative Commission for Refugees (NCCR) through which asylum seekers could apply for protection. A committee of six civil servants from different ministries, under supervision of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), heard cases to determine refugee status. It took four cases in late 2005 – all of them with UNHCR mandate refugee status – and approved them, but by the end of 2006, MOI had yet to grant formal recognition. By the end of 2006, NCCR had appraised 55 cases. There was no appeals process.

UNHCR continued to be the primary agency to determine refugee status but in May, MOI called upon the 13 regional administrations to register and send asylum claims directly to the NCCR and, in one test case, they did so.

Mauritania was party to both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, without reservation, and the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugees in Africa, and its 1991 Constitution provided that international treaties were a superior authority to national law. The Constitution also provided that no person should be extradited but according to international laws and extradition treaties. Although Mauritania withdrew from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1999 and imposed restrictions on nationals of member states in 2001, it still allowed visa-free entry and residence to Senegalese, Malians, and Gambians with papers.

Mauritania hosted nearly 30,400 refugees, including about 26,000 Sahrawis from the Western Sahara occupied by Morocco, about 3,500 Malians, and nearly 900 UNHCR-recognized refugees and asylum seekers from various countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire. There were also about 130,000 migrants in the country, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, following massive expulsions in 2005 from Morocco and Algeria, but there were no reliable means to estimate how many of them were refugees.

Refugees and asylum seekers were among the many migrants who attempted dangerous crossings by sea to the Canary Islands or by desert crossing to Morocco in which thousands died. Between January and February 2007, Mauritania refused to allow Marine I, a stranded vessel from Guinea Conakry with some 400 mostly South Asian and African migrants, to land, until Spain, the country of their presumed destination, agreed to fly them out within four hours. The Government agreed to allow them to land but, as they no papers, Spain could not repatriate them and they remained in detention instead. A senior Mauritanian official said the Government would not permit vessels to land in the future.

Detention/Access to Courts

Mauritania detained large numbers of migrants in transit to and from Europe but were no reports of arbitrary arrest or detention of refugees. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to detainees in Mauritania and reported cases of refugees in need of protection to UNHCR. The Government allowed Spain to construct a detention center with a capacity of 250 in the port city of Nouadhibou but held thousands there, some 40 to a room, in conditions the Mauritanian Red Crescent called "deplorable." Toilets were bad and ventilation was poor as authorities walled off windows to prevent escape. UNHCR had access to determine if they were eligible for refugee status.

In March 2007, the Spanish Red Cross reported that, because authorities did not allow the hundreds of South Asian and African migrants from the stranded Marine I ship detained in a warehouse in Nouadhibou out even to exercise in the courtyard, they suffered from scabies, respiratory infections, muscle pains, and abscesses. Authorities denied the UN press agency, IRIN, and the BBC access to the facility.

The Government did not issue identity documents to refugees but UNHCR issued attestations to those it granted refugee status under its mandate and provisional ones to those who had applied for status and authorities respected them as identity documents. Refugees and asylum seekers had to renew them in person every six months.

The Constitution extended the presumption of innocence and protection against arbitrary deprivation of liberty to all, but reserved the right of privacy to citizens.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Fear of identity checks hindered the movement of asylum seekers. Refugees with UNHCR attestations, however, could move around freely although they could not use them to leave the country legally. The Government did not issue refugees international travel documents and had an agreement with Spain to accept the return of any migrant to the nearby Canary Islands that passed through Mauritania on the way.

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 five more.

Most refugees and asylum seekers lived on the outskirts of the two major urban centers – the capital, Nouakchott and the economic center, Nouadhibou – as did most migrants, generally among compatriots.

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

Refugees could not receive work permits from the Government. Refugees worked in informal sectors where the supply of local labor was inadequate, for lower wages and under worse conditions than nationals did.

Some refugees started businesses that the authorities recognized as legitimate. Some refugees, especially those from Sierra Leone, found work as teachers in official schools.

The Constitution included general protections for private property, 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

The Government allowed refugees health services on par with nationals. UNHCR also helped the needier refugees with money for private clinics. The Government offered refugees the same access to primary schools – in which instruction was in Arabic – as nationals. UNHCR assisted refugees, especially families with small children, with their rent and paid school fees for families who could not afford them. UNHCR also supported a women's community center in Nouakchott that helped women with income generating activities.

MOI cooperated with UNHCR and there were no reports that Mauritania hindered humanitarian aid to refugees but Mauritania did not include refugees in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors. Refugees benefited from urban regeneration projects of World Vision International and Caritas in the most destitute areas of Nouakchott where they lived among nationals.

Search Refworld