We are deeply concerned by accelerated efforts to deport black Mauritanians living in the United States who run the serious risk of enslavement upon return to their home country. This campaign is particularly focused on Columbus, Ohio, which, according to the Columbus Dispatch, is home to a concentration of about 3,000 Mauritanian immigrants. To date, 79 people have been deported since October 2017 and another 41 are in Immigration and Customs Envorcement detention.
Mauritania is notorious for a hereditary system of slavery wherein black Africans are held in bondage by the Arab Moor population. The government of Mauritania, which was the last on the planet to legally abolish slavery, remains negligent if not complicit in sustaining this system of oppression. As a result, the U.S. State Department has given the Mauritanian government the lowest possible rating in its assessment of government efforts to address human trafficking. A similarly dismal assessment of the government’s efforts was provided in the 2018 Global Slavery Index, which estimated that 90,000 people in a population of 4.1 million people are in slavery. The government routinely jails and punishes those agitating for the abolition of slavery, including Biram Abeid, who received the United Nation Prize for Human Rights.
Deporting those innocent of any crime in the United States to a country where there is serious threat of enslavement is unconscionable. The black Mauritanians have been stripped of their citizenship by the government of Mauritania and would be bereft of even minimal protections if returned. Amnesty International has condemned the deporting of Mauritanian asylum seekers, as has an editorial in the Washington Post.
One of the most shameful episodes in American history is the Fugitive Slave Law, where government authorities returned slaves who had escaped to the free northern states to their masters. It is unthinkable that the U.S. government should revive the practice of sending Africans back into slavery. Free the Slaves joins in the call to immediately end deporting Mauritanian asylum seekers.