Mauritanians who sought refuge in U.S. face deportation, then jail

Published: 17/Dec/2018
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

by Nellie Peyton

NOUAKCHOTT, DEC 17 – Mo had nothing but a set of jail clothes and the name of a distant cousin when he boarded the deportation flight from the United States to Mauritania, the African country he had fled.

After more than 20 years he was returning to the scene of childhood trauma – an Islamic republic on the edge of the Sahara where members of black ethnic groups, like him, have suffered decades of slavery and persecution under a light-skinned elite.

The plane descended over desert, and his fears were realised. Upon arrival in the capital, Nouakchott, he was arrested and taken to jail, where he remained for two weeks until his family paid a bribe to free him.


People like Mo relied on translators to file their asylum applications in the United States, and many were denied for lack of credibility or documents, lawyers said.

They were allowed to stay and simply monitored by ICE – until late last year.

“I knew it was coming. They were getting everybody,” said Mo in October, wearing the same clothes he had put on for work the morning ICE picked him up outside his house in May.

Under pressure from the Trump administration, the Mauritanian embassy started issuing travel permits, “laissez-passers”, so its citizens could be sent back, lawyers said.

But when Mo presented his in Mauritania, he was told it was not proof of citizenship and that he had no legal rights there, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“They (the authorities) said anyone can make this,” said Mo, waving the flimsy document typed up on printing paper.


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Themes: Nationality and Refugees, Statelessness
Regions: Mauritania
Year: 2018