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23 July 2020 – Mauritania

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “COVID-19, Communicating with Refugees in Mauritania,” 20 May 2020,
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “COVID-19, Communicating with Refugees in Mauritania,” 20 May 2020,

The IOM Mauritania office has informed the GDP that Mauritanian authorities have “informally” placed a moratorium on new detention orders during the crisis; police forces in both Nouakchott and Nouadhibou have reported that they were not detaining migrants. With borders closed and inter-regional movement restrictions in place, deportations from the country have also ceased. Reportedly, however, UNHCR has been seeking to ensure that asylum seekers may still enter the country.

While deportations from Mauritania have ceased, as the GDP previously reported on this platform (see 16 May update), the country appears to have continued to receive returns from Spain–based on an agreement between Spain and Mauritania, and with the support of Frontex. Between mid-2019 and mid-March 2020, nine deportation flights took place, raising concerns that persons wishing to seek asylum in Spain were returned to Mauritania.

Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Mauritania have long faced arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as expulsion. Since the 2000s, the country has come under significant pressure from the EU – and in particular Spain – to combat irregular migration flows by reinforcing external border control policies. Yet, as the GDP noted in a recent submission to the Universal Periodic Review (jointly submitted with Italy’s Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), little information is publicly available regarding where immigration detainees are confined. However – based on the Covid-19 survey information provided by the IOM – it appears that police stations in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou confined non-nationals prior to the pandemic. The UN Committee on Migrant Workers has also reported that migrants and refugees apprehended due to their administrative status are detained in penal establishments alongside ordinary prisoners.

Information regarding length of detention has also remained unavailable, although the IOM reported that “typically in Mauritania due to a lack of resources rather than legal frameworks, it is rare for people to remain in detention for a long time.”

As of May 2020, Mauritania hosted some 63,213 refugees—the majority of whom are from neighbouring Mali, displaced by the political, institutional, and security crisis and many of whom now live in Mbera refugee camp in the south-east of the country. During the crisis, UNHCR has been running a communication campaign sharing key government and WHO health messages with refugees in the camp – as well as those in urban areas. Amongst other actions, the refugee agency has trained community facilitators to conduct door-to-door visits, as well as to conduct WhatsApp messaging campaigns.