• Lynn Tramonte

Outline Shows Why Refugees Continue to Flee Mauritania, Country Unsafe for U.S. Deportees

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

Cleveland, OH - Refugees are fleeing slavery and torture in Mauritania today--while the U.S. government is deporting people back to these very same abuses. A outline from the Ohio Immigrant Alliance reveals the recent political events in Mauritania that are causing people to continue to seek safety in other nations, and make the country unsafe for U.S. deportees.

A new story published in the Associated Press (English and Spanish) describes the harrowing journey that one young Mauritanian man, Abdoulaye Camara, recently took in order to pursue freedom in the United States. AP writes: “Camara’s journey began more than a year ago in the small town of Toulel, in southern Mauritania. He left Mauritania, where slavery is illegal but still practiced, ‘because it’s a country that doesn’t know human rights,’ he said.”

All told, Camara’s journey to the U.S. took well over over one year and 6,000 miles. He saw other migrants drown or die of thirst. When he finally made it to the U.S. border in San Ysidro, Camara immediately requested asylum. He was detained, passed his credible fear interview, and has been released from jail thanks to the Innovation Law Lab and Oregon community members. Camara is now living with a relative in Pennsylvania while pursuing his asylum claim.

Although multiple offices within the U.S. government have criticized Mauritania for its record on slavery and other human rights abuses--from the CIA and State Department to the U.S. Trade Representative--the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to deport people back to these same atrocities.

This represents an abrupt change in policy, well-documented by The Atlantic, the Washington Post editorial board, USA Today, Newsweek, and NBC News.

The Ohio Immigrant Alliance is releasing a new outline of recent political events in Mauritania, demonstrating exactly how unsafe this country is for the men and women being sent back there by the U.S. government.

“ICE is telling the Mauritanian people they are arresting and deporting that the country is safe now. They have no idea what they are talking about, and obviously don’t care if their actions put human lives in danger,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance. “But these agents are functionaries in our government. They work for us, and we need to stand up and say this cannot happen.”

Following are just some of the developments in 2018 that undermined human rights and free speech in Mauritania:

Last week, 32 human rights and free speech organizations issued a stinging rebuke to the nation for continuing to imprison blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, without access to lawyers, one year after his release was to have taken place and more than four years since he was first unjustly arrested.

Mkhaitir was arrested in January 2014, for publishing an article criticizing people who use Prophet Muhammad to attempt to justify racial and caste discrimination. In December 2014, a lower court convicted him of apostasy and sentenced him to death. In November 2017, an appeals court reduced Mkhaitir’s sentence to two years in prison--which he had already served--and a fine, setting him up for release after more than three years. Yet as of November 9. 2018, Mkhaitir remains in jail, in poor health and with no access to his lawyer.

Kine Fatim Diop, Amnesty International’s West Africa Campaigner, said: “Continuing to detain Mohamed Mkhaïtir demonstrates serious contempt for the rule of law by the Mauritanian authorities. He is a prisoner of conscience whose life is in the hands of the authorities solely because he peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.”

Earlier in November 2018, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced the termination of Mauritania’s trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The Mauritanian government’s lack of progress on and commitment to ending slavery was cited, along with its crack down on human rights advocates.

Amnesty International’s Francois Patuel said: "To be coherent, the U.S. should stop deporting individuals to Mauritania where they would face discrimination and arrests.”

In October 2018, a peaceful protest lead by members of the Initiative for Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), calling for the release of leader Biram Dah Abeid from prison, was met with violence by the Mauritanian government. Front Line Defenders reported that twelve members of the IRA were attacked by the Mauritanian police. Disturbing photos of the victims of police brutality, which included the wife of Biram Dah Abeid, were published on the blog CRIDEM.

Also in October, Thomson Reuters Foundation published an article about the criminalization of rape victims in Mauritania. According to the report: “rape convictions for men are rare while prosecuting female victims of sexual violence for zina [sex outside of marriage] is common, according to campaigners who say rape victims must generally prove the use of force in order to be found innocent. ‘Once a woman becomes an adult, in most cases, they say she consented,’ said Aminetou Mint Ely of the Association of Women Heads of Family.”

In August 2018, the Mauritanian government arrested abolitionist leader Biram Dah Abeid, journalists Babacar Ndiaye and Mahmoudi Ould Saibout, and IRA member Abdellahi el Housein Mesoud in yet another crackdown on dissent.

In June 2018, the Mauritanian government arrested photographer Seif Kousmate for taking pictures that reflect slavery being practiced in Mauritania today. Kousmate was released four days later, but the government confiscated his memory cards that contained the images.

Also in June 2018, noted abolitionist leader Biram Dah Abeid filed an affidavit with the U.S. government regarding several U.S. Mauritanian deportation cases, stating: “The deportation of detained Black Mauritanians and all Black Mauritanians, who reside in the United States and are subject to final removal orders, amounts to a death sentence for an entire population.” He went on to state that “Many Black Mauritanians who were deported to Mauritania have been arrested and put into detention” upon return, and called upon the U.S. government to end the dangerous practice of deportation Black Mauritanians to this nation.

In April 2018, Mauritania adopted a new “blasphemous speech” law making the death penalty mandatory for instances of blasphemy--to be interpreted broadly and politically. Human Rights Watch pointed out that this law is in response to the Mkhaitir case and serves to suppress speech even further.

Read about additional events and actions that span the years of 2007 through today in the Ohio Immigrant Alliance outline.

Ahmed Tidiane, a leader with African Immigrant Relief in Columbus, Ohio, said:

Our main goal is to have the cases of all Mauritanians living in the United States with deportation orders reconsidered, and appear before a judge. The country has changed since these cases were decided. Aziz came into power--and remained in power--by force. There are arrests and human rights violations happening on a daily basis. Deporting people to Mauritania only helps the government there. The government considers them opponents, enemies of the state. They are issuing temporary travel documents to these people so that they can be arrested and tortured when they are returned. The U.S. government should not deport people into this situation.
We are also demanding the immediate release of human rights defenders who remain detained in Mauritania to this day, including Biram Dah Abeid.

For more information on deportations to Mauritania and the modern-day human rights crisis unfolding there, see this outline of recent events from the Ohio Immigrant Alliance, as well as this short overview from America’s Voice.

African Immigrant Relief is teaming up with the Ohio Immigrant Alliance and Cleveland Jobs with Justice to raise money for legal fees, bonds, and related expenses to stop the deportation of Black Mauritanians to statelessness, slavery, and other atrocities. Text to donate: ATHOME to 44321.

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela


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