Mauritania

No Data

Immigration detainees

No Data

Detained children

83,191

Refugees

2018

4,600,000

Population

2020

Overview

Mauritania has become a favoured transit point for African migrants attempting to reach Europe. The introduction of stricter border controls in Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the mid-2000s forced migrants to search out new routes, which resulted in the Mauritanian port city of Nouadhibou, located 800 km southeast of Spain’s Canary Islands, becoming a key departure hub. Thousands of irregular migrants enter the country yearly, particularly from Senegal and Mali, to set out on perilous trips to the Canaries. Mauritania has established agreements with Spain on implementing stricter controls, including police checkpoints along its borders and surveillance operations to interdict smuggling vessels. In addition, Mauritania operates one dedicated immigration detention centre in Nouadhibou, nicknamed “Guantanamito” by detainees, which has been sharply criticised for its poor conditions.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

23 July 2020

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “COVID-19, Communicating with Refugees in Mauritania,” 20 May 2020, https://bit.ly/3jr4UE6
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “COVID-19, Communicating with Refugees in Mauritania,” 20 May 2020, https://bit.ly/3jr4UE6

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.


16 May 2020

Empty Streets of Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, on 5 April 2020 (Cheyakhey Ali, Andalou Agency, AFP,
Empty Streets of Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital, on 5 April 2020 (Cheyakhey Ali, Andalou Agency, AFP, "Covid-19 : avec plus aucun cas positif, la Mauritanie semble avoir trouvé une stratégie gagnante contre l'épidémie," France Info, 23 April 2020, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/societe-africaine/covid-19-plus-aucun-cas-positif-la-mauritanie-semble-avoir-trouve-une-strategie-gagnante-contre-l-epidemie_3928929.html)

With the support of Frontex, an agreement between Spain and Mauritania allows for the return of Mauritanian nationals or migrants arriving in the Canary Islands. In 2018, four flights were carried out. However, from mid 2019 to mid March 2020, nine flights took place. According to the Mixed Migration Centre, at the beginning of the pandemic, Mauritania did not close its borders to its nationals. Rather, it “imposed a quarantine on those returned from the Canary Islands, making deportation flights more challenging, but it had not stopped them entirely.’’

This procedure raised concerns, as many undocumented people were reportedly deported despite wishing to seek asylum in Spain.

As of early May, Mauritania had only nine confirmed cases of Covid-19. A curfew was imposed as soon as the first case was declared on 13 March, and borders were closed on 25 March. Many Mauritanian nationals are stuck abroad and can not enter the country. The army has been stationed along the Senegal River to prevent undocumented migrants from crossing. On 4 May, the IOM reported that over 1,000 people were waiting for a reopening of the border.

At the M’Béra refugee camp, which hosts tens of thousands of Malian refugees, UNHCR is assisting refugees and working to make sure that they are aware of Covid-19 sanitary measures.

According to the ICRC delegation in Mauritania, the Covid-19 crisis would have a ‘’dramatic’’ impact in the country’s prisons given the already existing issues related to access to water and sanitary products. It has been providing food and health care services in prisons and is now coordinating with the Mauritanian prison administration to raise awareness of the virus and prevention measures. Maret explained that for now, the country’s prisons are in a prevention and preparation phase. The ICRC has spoken with the country’s Ministry of Justice highlighting the need to decongest prisons, as has been done in other countries, by releasing the most vulnerable and imposing alternatives to detention. Authorities have released some prisoners although no official statement has been released by the government yet.


Last updated: February 2010

Mauritania Immigration Detention Profile

Mauritania has become a favoured transit point for African migrants attempting to reach Europe. The introduction of stricter border controls in Morocco and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the mid-2000s forced migrants to search out new routes, which resulted in the Mauritanian port city of Nouadhibou, located 800 km southeast of Spain’s Canary Islands, becoming a key departure hub (Amnesty 2008a; Choplin and Lombard 2007; Flynn 2006). Thousands of irregular migrants enter the country yearly, particularly from Senegal and Mali, to set out on perilous trips to the Canaries. Mauritania has established agreements with Spain on implementing stricter controls, including police checkpoints along its borders and surveillance operations to interdict smuggling vessels (USCRI 2009; Amnesty 2008a). In addition, Mauritania operates one dedicated immigration detention centre in Nouadhibou, nicknamed “Guantanamito” by detainees, which has been sharply criticised for its poor conditions (see USCRI 2009; Amnesty 2008a; CEAR 2008; WGAD 2008; Reuters 2006).

Detention Policy

The Decree 64.169 of 1964 (often referred to as the Aliens Acts) and the 1965 Decree 65.046 contain Mauritania’s key immigration norms. However, changes in immigration patterns over the past decade, as well as the introduction of new interdiction practices in response to pressure from Europe, have rendered certain aspects of Mauritanian law obsolete. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) reported in 2008 that the Aliens Act was undergoing revisions “as it is no longer adapted to the problems currently posed by migration in Mauritania. It does not criminalise attempts to leave the country illegally, which is often the reason given by the authorities for arresting foreigners heading for Europe. Such people are thus arrested and detained without any legal grounds” (WGAD 2008, p. 17; see also, Amnesty 2008a, p. 17).

The only reference to the departure of aliens in Mauritanian law is contained in the Aliens Act, which provides that foreign nationals who wish to leave the country must present identification documents to the authorities at exit points (CEAR 2008, p. 11). However, according to Mauritanian authorities, the police are authorized to apprehend people caught attempting to embark clandestinely by sea (WGAD 2008, p. 17). 

Decree 65.046 of 1965 provides penalties for violating immigration norms. Article 1 provides for a fine of between 10,000-300,000 francs and 2-6 months imprisonment for, inter alia, entering or remaining in Mauritania in violation of immigration law. Articles 2 and 3 provide for up to one year imprisonment for using or providing false identity documents.

Many current immigration and detention practices are established in a 2005 government decree on refugees as well as in two agreements signed with Spain during the past decade.

Under the 2005 decree, which incorporated refugee rights into domestic law and established asylum application procedures, Mauritania can only expel refugees for security reasons. In addition, the decree states that refugees are allowed to travel abroad with travel permits (USCRI 2009).

Migrants have alleged numerous violations during detention procedures, including being arrested for not paying bribes to police officers; having residence permits torn up at the time of arrest; and being arbitrarily accused of attempting illicit travel to Europe (Amnesty 2008a, pp. 19-21).

The Agreement on Immigration signed by Mauritania and Spain in July 2003 provides the legal basis for cooperation between the two countries. Under the agreement, Spain can request that Mauritania readmit not only Mauritanian migrants but also migrants from third countries. According to Article IX of the agreement, Mauritania agrees to accept nationals from third countries who have not fulfilled immigration requirements and are “presumed” to have transited Mauritania en route to Spain. 

In March 2006, Mauritania signed an additional agreement with Spain to conduct joint surveillance operations along the Mauritanian coast (Amnesty 2008a, p. 30). As part of the agreement, Spain sent four naval boats, a helicopter, and 20 specially trained civil guards (guardia civil) to help the Mauritanian authorities patrol the coast and conduct interdiction operations at sea (USCRI 2009; Reuters 2006). These efforts along the coast are in addition to the 63 police checkpoints and 37 gendarmerie checkpoints that Mauritania has set up along its borders with Mali and Senegal. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has provided support to open five more checkpoints (USCRI 2009; Reuters 2006).

There are also legal complications with running the country’s single detention centre in Nouadhibou. Mauritania’s National Security Service (NSS) officially manages the centre, though there are no legal provisions authorizing this (Amnesty 2008a, p. 24). In addition, because of the lack of a clear framework for operating the centre, “there is no limit on the duration of detention, which may extend from one or two days to a week or more, until the police are able to organize transport for these people” (Amnesty 2008a, p. 24).

Services at the centre are provided by non-governmental organisations. The Mauritanian Red Crescent and the Spanish Red Cross fund and deliver meals to detainees, and provide them the opportunity to phone home. The Red Crescent also provides medical care. According to the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR),  “The centre has a small and very basic clinic for first aid, and, if a migrant needs to be hospitalised, the Red Crescent accompanies them and pays their expenses, as there is no provision for medical coverage in th[e] country” (ESW 2009; Amnesty 2008a, p. 23).

In 2007, Mauritanian authorities detained 3,257 migrants, all of whom were subsequently expelled to either Senegal or Mali. According to Amnesty, “these people are left at the border, often without much food and with no means of transport” (Amnesty 2008b).

Detention Infrastructure

Mauritania has one dedicated detention centre for irregular migrants, in the port city of Nouadhibou. Opened in April 2006 in cooperation with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the centre formed part of Mauritania’s efforts to crack down on the number of migrants attempting to use Nouadhibou as a transit point for reaching the Canary Islands (ESW 2009; Amnesty 2008a, p. 21). The detention centre, which the Global Detention Project codes as an ad hoc facility because it operates without any apparent legal mandate, is located in a former school restored by Spanish authorities; classrooms have been fitted with bunk beds and transformed into detention cells. As of 2007, the facility was unmarked and surrounded by a one-metre high wall (Amnesty 2008a, p. 21; VOA News 2007). Before 2006, migrants arrested by the police were mostly held at a police station in Nouadhibou (Amnesty 2008a, p. 23).

Spain’s involvement in establishing the detention centre has raised questions over which authority controls the facility. While the centre is officially managed by the Mauritanian National Security Service (NSS), it is not governed by any regulations applicable to detention centres in the country (Amnesty 2008a, p. 24). Rather, as stated by Mauritanian officials “clearly and emphatically” to a delegation from CEAR in October 2008, Mauritanian authorities perform their jobs at the express request of the Spanish government (ESW 2009).

Services at the centre are provided by non-governmental organisations. The Mauritanian Red Crescent and the Spanish Red Cross fund and deliver meals to detainees, and provide them the opportunity to phone home. The Red Crescent also provides medical care. According to CEAR, “The centre has a small and very basic clinic for first aid, and, if a migrant needs to be hospitalised, the Red Crescent accompanies them and pays their expenses, as there is no provision for medical coverage in th[e] country” (ESW 2009; Amnesty 2008a, p. 23).

The NSS at Nouadhibou reported that in 2007 the centre detained 3,257 migrants, including 1,381 Senegalese and 1,229 Malians. It is estimated that 200-300 people are confined in the centre every month. Due to the lack of legal oversight of the centre, “there is no limit on the duration of detention, which may extend from one or two days to a week or more, until the police are able to organize transport for these people” (Amnesty 2008a, p. 24).

The high number of migrants taken in on a monthly basis has led to severe overcrowding, as noted by several groups who visited in 2008 (Amnesty 2008a; CEAR 2008; WGAD 2008). According to Amnesty, in March 2008 there were 216 bunk beds spread throughout the former classrooms, although only three rooms were being used during their visit. The organization reported that during its visit “a group of 35 who had been expelled by Morocco were being held in a room measuring 8m by 5m, with bars at the windows, which contained 17 bunk beds” (Amnesty 2008a, p. 21). Overcrowded cells have led to deplorable hygienic conditions, according to the Red Crescent (Reuters 2006).

Reports by human rights groups have also heavily criticised the treatment of detainees. Detainees have reported being beaten by police and locked up in cells day and night. They have also stated that they do not have access to showers, medical care, or interpreters, and that they have been forced to sign statements they do not understand (Amnesty 2008a, p. 11-12; WGAD 2008, p. 18-20). Overcrowding has led to minors being held in the same cells as adults, and has prevented the separation of criminals from immigration detainees (USCRI 2009).

In March 2008, both the regional director for national security and the Spanish Consul in Nouadhibou stated that plans were in place to construct a new detention centre that would conform to international standards (Amnesty 2008a, pp. 38-39). It is not clear, however, whether this has yet been undertaken. In previous years plans were made to build four additional detention centres—in Zouerate, Nouakchott, Rosso and Kaedi—but these plans were eventually scrapped (Reuters 2006).

Facts & Figures

The majority of migrants transiting Mauritania en route to the Canary Islands are from Senegal and Mali. Of the 3,257 detainees held at the Nouadhibou detention centre in 2007, 1,381 were Senegalese and 1,229 were Malian (Amnesty 2008a, p. 24).

While the number of migrants intercepted and expelled by Mauritanian and Spanish authorities has declined over the past four years, it still numbers in the thousands. In 2006, officials estimated that approximately 11,600 migrants were intercepted in the water or arrested by local police and taken to Mauritania’s border with either Mali or Senegal to be expelled. In 2007, this figure dropped to 7,100 intercepted and expelled, and fell further to 5,969 in 2008 (Frontex 2009; Amnesty 2008a, p. 25). The number of migrants reaching the shores of the Canary Islands by boat has also dropped significantly, from 31,678 in 2006 to only 9,181 in 2008. According to the Spanish Interior Ministry, 1,472 successfully made the crossing in the first four months of 2009 (ESW 2009; Frontex 2009).

Mauritania has a sizeable refugee population. According to UNHCR, as of January 2009, Mauritania was hosting a total of 27,041 refugees and people in refugee-like situations, of whom 642 had been assisted by UNHCR. There were also 62 pending cases for asylum (UNHCR 2009). During 2008, more than 1,000 new refugees and asylum seekers registered in Mauritania, the largest number coming from Sudan. Of these, 775 were issued documents by the government (USCRI 2009).The vast majority of refugees, some 26,000, are ethnic Sahrawis from the disputed Western Sahara held by Morocco; another 3,500 refugees are from Mali (USCRI 2009). 

References

IMMIGRATION AND DETENTION-RELATED STATISTICS

Number of apprehensions of non-citizens
6,463
2014
713
2013
Criminal prison population
1,768
2014
1,664
2013
1,602
2012
1,700
2010
815
2005
1,185
2003
1,413
2001
1,352
1999
1,400
1997
Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
44
2014
43
2013
42
2012
47
2010
26
2005
40
2003
50
2001
51
1999
56
1997
Population
4,600,000
2020
4,068,000
2015
3,600,000
2012
International migrants
138,200
2015
90,200
2013
International migrants as a percentage of the population
3.4
2015
2.3
2013
Refugees
83,191
2018
77,427
2017
74,117
2016
77,394
2015
92,767
2014
Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
17.8
2016
19.05
2014
22.3
2012
Total number of new asylum applications
624
2016
605
2014
602
2012
Refugee recognition rate
55.8
2014
Stateless persons
0
2016
0
2014
Total number of immigration detainees by year
Number of immigration detainees on a given day
Top nationalities of detainees
Number of persons granted alternatives to immigration detention
Number of detained asylum seekers
Total number of detained minors
Number of detained unaccompanied minors
Number of detained accompanied minors
Number of detained stateless persons
Immigration detainees as a percentage of total international migrant population
Estimated total immigration detention capacity
Number of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
Estimated capacity of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
Number of dedicated medium-term immigration detention centres
Number of immigration offices
Number of transit facilities
Number of criminal facilities
Number of ad hoc facilities
Number of persons removed/returned (voluntary returns and deportations)
Number of deportations/forced returns only
Percentage of persons removed in relation to total number of people placed in removal procedures
Percentage of foreign prisoners
Estimated number of undocumented migrants

SOCIO-ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD)
1,275
2014
1,070
2013
Unemployment Rate
2014
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in millions USD)
257.1
2014
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
156 (Low)
2015
161 (Low)
2014
Remittances to the country
Remittances from the country
Unemployment rate amongst migrants
Detention for deterrence
Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration
Immigration Index Score
World Bank Rule of Law Index
Domestic Opinion Polls on Immigration

DOMESTIC LAWS AND POLICIES

Legal tradition
Muslim law
2017
Constitutional guarantees?
Yes (National Salvation Military Committee, Mauritania's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2012. Article 13 "No one can be prosecuted, arrested, detained or punished except in the cases determined by the law and according to the forms that it prescribes") 1991 1991
1991
Immigration-status-related grounds
Detention for unauthorised entry or stay
2015
Detention to effect removal
2015
Provision of basic procedural standards
Right to legal counsel () No
2017
Core pieces of national legislation
Additional legislation
Regulations, standards, guidelines
Non-immigration-status-related grounds providing for administrative detention in immigration legislation.
Does the country provide specific criminal penalties for immigration-related violations?
Grounds for criminal immigration-related detention/incarceration and maximum potential duration of incarceration
Has the country decriminalized immigration-related violations?
Maximum length for administrative immigration detention in law.
Longest recorded instance of immigration detention.
Maximum length of time in custody prior to issuance of a detention order
Average length of detention
Maximum length of detention for asylum-seekers
Maximum length of detention for persons detained upon arrival at ports of entry
Types of non-custodial measures
Impact of alternatives
Is the detention of vulnerable persons provided in law? Are they detained in practice?
Mandatory detention
Expedited/fast track removal
Re-entry ban

INTERNATIONAL LAW

International treaty reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
ICCPR Article 18 2004
2004
2017
Individual complaints procedure
Acceptance Year
CRPD, Optional Protocol to o the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2012
2012
Ratio of complaints procedures accepted
Observation Date
1/9
2017
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies
Recommendation Year
Committee on Migrant Workers "§35. (a) indicate in its next periodic report the number of migrants, disaggregated by age, sex and nationality and/or origin, who are currently in detention for infringing migration laws, specifying the location, average duration and conditions of their detention and providing information on the decisions rendered in their regard and on the steps taken to ensure that an alternative to detention is provided; (b) to refrain from detaining migrant workers for infringing migration laws other than in exceptional cases and as a last resort and to ensure that, in all cases, they are segregated from ordinary offenders and that women are segregated from men, and minors from adults." "§41. (a) facilitate access to consular or diplomatic assistance for mauritanian migrant workers living abroad, especially in cases of detention or expulsion; (b) ensure that its consular services more effectively fulfil their mission to protect and promote the rights of mauritanian migrant workers and members of their families and, in particular, that they provide the necessary assistance to those who are deprived of their liberty or under an expulsion order; (c) take the necessary steps to ensure that the consular or diplomatic authorities of countries of origin, or of a country representing the interests of those countries, are systematically notified of the detention in the state party of one of their nationals and that the requisite information is duly entered in the police custody register (persons contacted, date, time, etc.);" 2016
2016
Committee against Torture

§16 [...] (b) Ensure that any person who is detained in connection with the effort to combat irregular immigration has access to an effective judicial remedy which allows that person to challenge the legality of administrative decisions regarding his or her detention, expulsion or refoulement; (c) Ensure that asylum seekers are held in detention only as a last resort
and, if this becomes necessary, that they are held for as short a time as possible and that use is made of alternatives to detention whenever feasible.

§22 [...] (g) Continue to ensure that the National Human Rights Commission and other human rights organizations have unhindered access to all places of detention, which includes the ability to make unannounced visits and to hold private interviews with detainees.

2013
2013
Regional legal instruments
Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
ACHPR, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 1986
1986
ACRWC, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 2005
2005
APRW, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) 2005
2005
Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (AU Refugee Convention) 1981
1981
Bilateral/multilateral agreements linked to readmission
Year in Force
Observation Date
Spain 2003
2003
2003
Relevant recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
No 2011
2017
No 2015
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Treaty bodies decisions on individual complaints
Regional treaty reservations
Regional judicial decisions on individual complaints
Recommendations issued by regional human rights mechanisms
Visits by special procedures of the Human Rights Council
Relevant recommendations by UN Special Procedures

INSTITUTIONAL INDICATORS

Custodial authority
National Security Service () Internal or Public Security
2009
Detention Facility Management
National Security Service (Governmental)
2009
Types of detention facilities used in practice
()
2015
Authorized monitoring institutions
Commission nationale des droits de l'Homme (National Human Rights Institution (or Ombudsperson) (NHRI))
2016
Is the national human rights institution (NHRI) recognized as independent?
Yes
2016
Does NHRI carry out visits?
Yes
2014
Do NGOs carry out visits?
No
2017
Federal or centralized governing system
Centralized or decentralized immigration authority
Apprehending authorities
Formally designated detention estate?
Does NHRI have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NHRI publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Does national preventive mechanism (NPM) carry out visits?
Does NPM have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NPM publicly release reports on immigration detention?
NGO capacity to receive complaints?
Do NGOs publish reports on immigration detention?
Do parliamentary organs carry out visits?
Do parliamentary organs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do parliamentary organs publicly report on their detention findings?
Do internal inspection agencies (IIAs) carry out visits?
Do IIAs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do IIAs publicly report their findings from detention inspections?
Do international and/or regional bodies (IRBs) visit immigration-related detention facilities?
Do IRBs publicly report their findings from inspections?
Types of privatisation/outsourcing
Detention contractors and other non-state entities
Estimated annual budget for detention operations
Estimated annual budgets for particular detention-related activities
Estimated cost per detainees day (in USD)
Estimated annual budget for non-custodial measures (in USD)
Estimated costs of non-custodial measures (in USD)
Does the country receive external sources of funding?
Description of foreign assistance