When war broke out between Senegal and Mauritania in 1989 over grazing rights at the border, many dark-skinned Mauritanians found themselves without a place to call home.
They were not only treated terribly by the Arab- and Berber-dominated government but were also exiled. Reports indicate that the government took the opportunity presented by the aftermath of the war to expel black Mauritanians from the fertile valley under dispute by claiming that they were Senegalese. According to the Human Rights Watch:
“Among those targeted for expulsion were black civil servants, employees of private institutions, trade unionists, former political prisoners and, in some instances, the wives of political prisoners. Many were summoned by the police, interrogated, forced to relinquish their identity cards and then transported in trucks, with or without their families, to the edge of the Senegal River, where canoes discharged them to Senegal. Two people are said to have died when they suffocated in a small van carrying 30 people — twice its proper capacity — for deportation from Nouakchott to Rosso on the border.”
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Some of these refugees found their way into the U.S., where they managed to set up their lives away from the fear and strain of statelessness.
But it seems that they were not quite safe. A number of Mauritanian refugees have been deported back to their home-country, exposed to the risks and dangers of jail and ill-treatment, thanks to the new immigration policies set up by President Donald Trump.
According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), America has deported 98 Mauritanians from the U.S.
Reports from Reuters indicate that even more Mauritians are at risk of deportation as many had to depend on translators for their asylum applications. However, since many did not have documents or credibility, they were denied asylum but were under observation by ICE.
Things however changed as ICE officials are picking up Mauritanians for deportation. The case of Amadou Sow, a father of five, made headlines in October when the attempts of ICE to deport him caught the attention of the press.
In another case reported by Reuters, Mo, one of the six deportees the organisation spoke to, stated that the travel permits he received from America was not considered a proof of citizenship and thus he had no legal rights to be in the country.
“They said anyone can make this,” he said, referring to the document.
The deportees further revealed that they were asked why they had gone to the United States, with many saying they had to look for any other reason because talking of seeking asylum is frowned upon by the Mauritanian immigration officials.
Most of them are put in jail- usually overcrowded- and were only released when they called family or influential people or when they coughed up a bribe of up to $300.
Back in America, immigration lawyers and even legislators are trying to get the deportations stopped.