Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Mauritania: Amnesty exposes overcrowding and ill-treatment at 'little Guantánamo'

Under pressure from European Union, migrants face illegal arrest and collective expulsion

Irregular migrants attempting to reach Europe are being arrested, ill-treated and collectively expelled from Mauritania – sometimes not to their home countries – and without opportunity to challenge the decision, according to findings published in an Amnesty International report released today (1 july 2008).

Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher, said:

“This policy of arrests and collective expulsions by the Mauritanian authorities is the result of intense pressure exerted on Mauritania by the European Union (EU), and Spain in particular, as they seek to involve certain African countries in their attempt to combat irregular migration to Europe.”

Since 2006, thousands of migrants – suspected of setting out from Mauritania with the intention of entering the EU via the Canary Islands (Spain) – have been arrested. Many of these people are held by members of the Mauritanian security forces in a detention centre at Nouadhibou in northern Mauritania, informally called Guantánamito (‘little Guantánamo’) by local residents and migrants.

The Nouadhibou detention centre – an old school where former classrooms have been filled with bunk beds – receives up to 300 people a month but is not subject to any judicial control. The migrants are held in overcrowded conditions and sometimes ill-treated.

According to the National Security Service, 3,257 people were held in the centre in 2007, all were then sent to Senegal and Mali, regardless of their nationality or country of origin. These people are left at the border, often without much food and no means of transport.

The report ‘ Mauritania: Nobody wants to have anything to do with us, arrests and collective expulsions of migrants denied entry into Europe ’, also expresses concern that, in the name of the fight against irregular migration, the Mauritanian authorities have arrested West African nationals living in Mauritania who had no apparent intention to leave the country. Some were arrested on the streets or in their homes and many were also often robbed of their possessions by Mauritanian security forces.

Amnesty International calls on the Mauritanian authorities to ensure that their security forces are abiding by international law.
The organisation also calls on the EU and its member states, most notably Spain, to take responsibility for ensuring that migrants are treated according to international human rights standards.
Salvatore Saguès added:

“EU states are using countries such as Mauritania to manage the flow of migrants who attempt to reach Europe from their territory. They have become the de facto ‘policemen of Europe’.”


  • Case studies and photographs are available from the Amnesty press office on request
  • The 50-page report ‘Mauritania: Nobody wants to have anything to do with us, arrests and collective expulsions of migrants denied entry into Europe’, (AFR 38/001/2008) published today (1 July 2008), is the result of a fact-finding mission by Amnesty International delegates in Mauritania in March 2008. They interviewed people held at the detention centre in Nouadhibou, migrants who had been accused of attempting to get to Europe via the Canary Islands. They also met senior officials of the Mauritanian authorities and diplomatic representatives of Spain in Mauritania.
  • Mauritania, which has traditionally been welcoming in its attitude to large numbers of nationals of neighbouring countries, signed an agreement with Spain in 2003 which obliges it to readmit onto its territory not only Mauritanian citizens but also the nationals of third countries where it has been “ascertained” or “presumed” that they have attempted to travel to Spain from the Mauritanian coast. Mauritania has also agreed to the presence on its soil of an aeroplane and a helicopter, deployed in the context of an operation conducted by the EU in order to control its external borders.

Read the report 'Mauritania: Nobody wants to have anything to do with us, arrests and collective expulsions of migrants denied entry into Europe' /p>

View latest press releases