No detention centre mapping data


Mauritania Immigration Detention

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.

Quick Facts


International migrants (2015): 138,200
New asylum applications (2016): 624

Profile 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

Centres List

No detention centres data available

Statistics Expand all



6,463

Number of apprehensions of non-citizens

2014

  • Number of apprehensions of non-citizens
NumberObservation Date
6,4632014
7132013


1,768

Criminal prison population

2014

  • Criminal prison population
NumberObservation Date
1,7682014
1,6642013
1,6022012
1,7002010
8152005
1,1852003
1,4132001
1,3521999
1,4001997


44

Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)

2014

  • Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
NumberObservation Date
442014
432013
422012
472010
262005
402003
502001
511999
561997



4,068,000

Population

2015

  • Population
NumberObservation Date
4,068,0002015
3,600,0002012


138,200

International migrants

2015

  • International migrants
NumberObservation Date
138,2002015
90,2002013


3.4

International migrants as a percentage of the population

2015

  • International migrants as a percentage of the population
PercentageObservation Date
3.42015
2.32013


74,117

Refugees

2016

  • Refugees
NumberObservation Date
74,1172016
77,3942015
92,7672014


19.05

Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants

2014

  • Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
NumberObservation Date
19.052014
22.32012


624

Total number of new asylum applications

2016

  • Total number of new asylum applications
NumberObservation Date
6242016
6052014
6022012


55.8

Refugee recognition rate

2014

  • Refugee recognition rate
NumberObservation Date
55.82014


0

Stateless persons

2016

  • Stateless persons
NumberObservation Date
02016
02014

Domestic Law Expand all

Legal tradition Show sources
NameObservation Date
Muslim law2017

Constitutional guarantees? Show sources
NameConstitution and ArticlesYear AdoptedLast Year Amended
YesNational 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"19911991

Immigration-status-related grounds Show sources
NameObservation Date
Detention for unauthorised entry or stay2015
Detention to effect removal2015

Provision of basic procedural standards
NameIn LawIn PracticeObservation Date
Right to legal counselNo2017

International Law Expand all

International treaties Show sources
NameRatification Year
ICCPR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights2004
OPCAT, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment2012
CRPD, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2012
ICPED, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance2012
ICRMW, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families2007
CTOCTP, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children2005
CTOCSP, Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime2005
ICESCR, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights2004
CAT, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment2004
CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women2001
VCCR, Vienna Convention on Consular Relations2000
CRC, Convention on the Rights of the Child1991
ICERD, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination1988
CRSR, Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees1987
PCRSR, Protocol to the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees1987
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
  15/19
International treaty reservations Show sources
NameReservation YearObservation Date
ICCPR Article 1820042017
Individual complaints procedure Show sources
NameAcceptance Year
CRPD, Optional Protocol to o the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities2012
Ratio of complaints procedures accepted Show sources
NumberObservation Date
1/92017
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies Show sources
NameRecommendation ExcerptRecommendation 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
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

Regional legal instruments Show sources
NameYear of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
ACHPR, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights1986
ACRWC, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child2005
APRW, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)2005
Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (AU Refugee Convention)1981

Bilateral/multilateral agreements linked to readmission Show sources
NameYear in ForceObservation Date
Spain20032003

Relevant recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review Show sources
Recomendation IssuedYear IssuedObservation Date
No20112017
No2015

Institutions Expand all

Custodial authority Show sources
AgencyMinistryMinistry TypologyObservation Date
National Security ServiceInternal or Public Security2009
Detention Facility Management Show sources
Entity NameEntity TypeObservation Date
National Security ServiceGovernmental2009
Types of detention facilities used in practice
Immigration detention centre (Administrative)Immigration field office (Administrative)Transit centre (Administrative)Reception centre (Administrative)Offshore detention centre (Administrative)Hospital (Administrative)Border guard (Administrative)Police station (Criminal)National penitentiary (Criminal)Local prison (Criminal)Juvenile detention centre (Criminal)Informal camp (Ad hoc)Immigration detention centre (Ad hoc)Surge facility (Ad hoc)Observation Date
2015

Authorized monitoring institutions Show sources
InstitutionInstitution TypeObservation Date
Commission nationale des droits de l'HommeNational Human Rights Institution (or Ombudsperson) (NHRI)2016
Is the national human rights institution (NHRI) recognized as independent? Show sources
Is the NHRI recognized as independent by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions?Observation Date
Yes2016
Does NHRI carry out visits? Show sources
Does NHRI carry out visits in practice?Observation Date
Yes2014
Do NGOs carry out visits?
Do NGOs regularly carry our visits?Observation Date
No2017

Socio Economic Data Expand all

Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD) Show sources
Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD)Observation Date
1,2752014
1,0702013
Unemployment Rate Show sources
Unemployment RateObservation Date
312014
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in millions USD) Show sources
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in USD)Observation Date
257.12014
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP) Show sources
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)UNDP four-tiered rankingObservation Date
156Low2015
161Low2014

Country Links

Last updated: February 2010

Last updated: February 2010

 

Government Agencies Government Agencies

Ministre de l'Intérieur et de la Décentralisation http://www.interieur.gov.mr/

-International Organizations

International Labour Organisation - Le Bureau Sous Régional de l'OIT pour le Sahel (French), http://www.ilo.org/public/french/region/afpro/dakar/

International Organisation for Migration – Mauritania Country Information, https://www.iom.int/countries/mauritania

UN High Commissioner for Refugees – Mauritania Country Information, http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/5928#_ga=1.11293684.1574793458.1466088472

NGOs and Research Institutions

Amnesty International – Mauritania https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/mauritania/

Human Rights Watch – Mauritania http://www.hrw.org/en/africa/mauritania

Mauritanian Red Crescent http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/where-we-work/africa/mauritanian-red-crescent/

Media

African Press Agency http://www.apanews.net/apa.php?id_mot=72&page=show_country_eng

Afrik http://en.afrik.com/mauritania

Jeune Afrique (French) http://www.jeuneafrique.com/pays/mauritanie/mauritanie.asp 

PanaPress http://www.panapress.com/paysindexlat.asp?code=eng032


Additional Resources


Submission to the Committee on Migrant Workers: Issues regarding Immigration detention in Mauritania and Belize

There and Back Again: On the Diffusion of Immigration Detention

From Mexico to the Bahamas, Mauritania to Lebanon, Turkey to Saudi Arabia, South Africa to Indonesia, Malaysia to Thailand, immigration-related detention has become an established policy apparatus that counts on dedicated facilities and burgeoning institutional bureaucracies. Until relatively recently, however, detention appears to have been largely an ad hoc tool, employed mainly by wealthy states in exigent circumstances. This paper uses concepts from diffusion theory to detail the history of key policy events in several important immigration destination countries that led to the spreading of detention practices during the last 30 years and assesses some of the motives that appear to have encouraged this phenomenon.

Europe: On Its Borders New Problems

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