Black Mauritanians in Senegal a Bitter Past

Black Mauritanians
Black Mauritanians protest their expulsion

Black Mauritanian refugees who have been on hunger strike since June 19 in Dakar, Senegal saw a light at the end of the tunnel this week.

Sustained media coverage of their strike saw a large delegation of dignitaries from Fouta, composed of former ministers, MPs and public figures, visiting them to show their support on Thursday. Their hunger strike was sparked by the mass expulsions of Black Mauritanians from Mauritania, which began in 1989. It was an attempt to create an all Arab country where Blacks, who form a majority of the population, would be relegated into second class citizens.

The Nouakchott régime, at the time, decided to expel more than 120,000 Black Mauritanians to Senegal and Mali.

Although the new regime in Nouakchott has distanced itself from the ethnic cleansing policies of its predecessors and recognised the fact that Black Mauritanians scattered around refugee camps live in precarious conditions in cities like Dakar are indeed Mauritanian, their conditions have not improved even after they have taken the difficult decision to move back to Mauritania.

“You mobilised to help your brothers and sisters who had been unjustly uprooted from their historical homeland” said one of the refugees.

Today, many returnees, most of them who lost everything during the deportations, have been badly settled and live as refugees in their own homeland.

After over an hour of very emotional discussions, the delegation on Thursday announced that they were now ready to commit to finding a happy ending to the crisis. “We will do everything, we will speak to the authorities of Senegal and UNHCR to find a solution to this crisis,” said former vice president of the National Assembly, Dean Aboubacry Kane.

Kane is widely known for his reliability and commitment to peace.

Writer and former minister, Cheikh Hamidou Kane and former finance minister, Mamoudou Toure asked the refugees to stop their hunger strike. But the refugees reminded the delegation of their poor conditions and alleged contempt shown by the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Mauritanian government.

“We are especially honoured to see you here, especially so due to the important role you played in the past to help Blacks in Mauritania live happily and in dignity in their country,” said Aljouma Cissokho, on behalf of the Coordination of Mauritanian Refugees in Senegal. “After the deportations, you mobilised to help your brothers and sisters who had been unjustly uprooted from their historical homeland.” Mauritania is the only country in Africa where slavery is still widely practiced.