Activists are stepping up pressure on the U.S. to grant asylum and other protections to Black Mauritanians facing imprisonment, torture, execution and slavery in the northwest African nation.
Mauritanian diaspora leaders and other advocates participated in a June 6 webinar to raise awareness of an ongoing surge in anti-Black violence by the government of the Arab-majority country. Authorities have arrested human rights leaders and kidnapped and killed protesters in what activists described as a long-term genocidal campaign against the Black minority population.
“The government is relentless in its pursuit to Arabize its population, and they will do that by any means necessary,” said Haddy Gassama, national director of policy and advocacy for the UndocuBlack Network. “Whether it’s police brutality, literal murder, land grabbing, erasure of languages — these are all very key components of ethnic cleansing. And that is what is happening in Mauritania today.”
Slavery also is used as a weapon of oppression, even though the practice recently was outlawed by the apartheid government. “When the Mauritanian government says the practice of a human being owning another human being does not exist, it’s just untrue,” Gassama said during the awareness event hosted by the Ohio Immigrant Alliance.
“When we’re saying slavery, we literally mean slavery, like another human being has ownership of another human being.”
Slavery in this context is not a metaphor for Blacks being relegated to underpaying jobs and other economic injustices, although that is also true for many Mauritanians, Gassama said. “When we’re saying slavery, we literally mean slavery, like another human being has ownership of another human being. It’s a long-standing practice that goes back before this particular Mauritanian government was in power. We’re talking about a centuries-old practice.”
The Mauritanian government also has intensified tactics associated with police states, said Amadou Dia, a leader of the U.S.-based Mauritanian Network for Human Rights.
Those suspected of participating in recent protests, including teens as young as 13 and 14, are being taken from their homes to be tortured and jailed. “The police in Mauritania have their own tribunals inside police stations. They can make their own judgments and then decide what to do with that person,” Dia said.
The government also has gone to great lengths to keep news of their actions from reaching the outside world, Dia said. “They cut off the internet, so there’s no communication. You don’t even know what’s going on in Mauritania right now. It’s very alarming.”
The nation, a former French colony that gained independence in 1960, has effectively suppressed knowledge of a period of genocide that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s along with its consistent practice of racial discrimination.
“The government of Mauritania has been trying to extinguish its Black citizen for decades,” Dia said.
It’s important the global community understand that the secrecy and violence will continue without international pressure, network leader Abdoulaye Sow explained. “This is just telling us that they’re not backing down and what we have experienced in the past — the deportations, the mass killing — can happen again. This mercenary regime will always find an occasion, an opportunity, to push out the Black population.”
“This mercenary regime will always find an occasion, an opportunity, to push out the Black population.”
There are signs some U.S. lawmakers are taking notice of the situation in Mauritania, said Aita Wellington, an activist with Communities United for Status and Protection.
And organizers hope to convert that rising interest into providing Temporary Protective Status to Mauritanian nationals residing in the U.S., thus protecting them from deportation, she said. “There’s been some engagement from elected officials in different parts of the country, from members of Congress, from the administration. Human rights groups have also written about what’s happening in Mauritania in support of this TPS campaign. Since those things started, things have ramped up.”
But the lobbying must continue because lives are at stake, Wellington added. “If they were to be deported to Mauritania, they will be in grave danger because the government is unwilling and unable to protect them and is actually taking action against their own citizens.”
Activists also want the U.S. to open the asylum and refugee processes for Mauritanians to minimize the racism Black immigrants currently face along immigration routes, including in Mexico.
After all, the country has taken such steps to help those fleeing war and persecution in other nations, Wellington said. “We’ve seen it with Ukraine. We’ve seen it with Afghanistan. We’ve seen it with multiple countries over the years. Now there are Black people in Mauritania and in the U.S. right now who are hurting and who need help.”
The suffering can end if America acts, Gassama added. “What we’re bearing witness to today is an egregious example of human suffering at the hands of other human beings on the basis of their race or ethnicity. And it is not normal. It is not OK. And the good thing is that it does not have to continue.”