Access to citizenship in Mauritania is governed by the Loi N° 1961-112 portant code de la nationalité mauritanienne as modified in 2010 by the Loi No 2010 – 023 du 11 février 2010. This modification made several important changes to the law, removing provisions which allowed a child born in Mauritania to a father who was also born there to be considered a citizen. In addition, it altered the provision for access to nationality of women married to Mauritania men from automatic recognition to requiring an application process. There is still no provision for foreign men married to Mauritanian women to access nationality.

A critical issue related to citizenship in Mauritania has been the treatment of black African Mauritanians. Mauritania is populated by three principle groups light skinned Arabs or Beydanes, Haratines or Arabic speaking blacks and dark skinned people belonging to sub-Saharan African groups. In the mid-1980s, the Mauritanian government undertook a policy of Arabization, which angered non-Arab speaking Mauritanians. In 1989, following a dispute between Senegalese farmers and Mauritanian pastoralists in the Senegal River Valley, the countries came to the brink of war and each agreed to repatriate the others’ citizens.

Mauritania took advantage of the situation to deport an estimated 70,000-80,000 black Mauritanians to Senegal and Mali. The government claimed at the time that the expellees were Senegalese nationals, but those affected described having to surrender their ID cards and being forced on to trucks to transport them across the border.

In 2005, a change in government opened the door to repatriation to Mauritania and approximately 25,000 Mauritanians returned with UNHCR assistance between 2008 and 2012. However, the returnees complain that they have been unable to access lost land or identity cards.

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