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Legal Experts and Community Leaders Decry the Deportation of Mauritanians and the Arrest of Anti-Slavery Leader Biram Dah Abeid

 

A recording of the call is available here.

Columbus, OH – In a sharp departure from prior administrations, Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has restarted deportations of long-term U.S. residents to Mauritania, despite the grave risk of arrest, slavery, and extortion they face.  This situation was recently highlighted in a major cover story in The Atlantic magazine, as well as the Columbus Dispatch.    

On a press call today, legal experts and community leaders gathered to discuss the severity of the situation.  At least one dozen Mauritanians are currently detained in Ohio awaiting deportation, which could take place as early as next week.  Others have already been deported.

Last week, internationally-acclaimed anti-slavery leader Biram Dah Abeid was arrested by the Mauritanian government, providing additional evidence that the country is not ready, willing, or able to protect its citizens from human rights abuses.  

National and Ohio leaders decried both the ongoing deportations and Abeid’s arrest during a press call today, August 14, 2018.  For more on the situation, see the background section of this press advisory.

Marvin Kumetat, U.S. Program Coordinator, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) said:

While the Global Slavery Index estimates that around 50,000 people in Mauritania are slaves, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Slavery, the CIA World Factbook, IMF, World Bank and other NGOS (e.g. SOS Esclavage) operate with even higher numbers and estimate that up to 20 percent of Mauritanians (i.e. around 650,000 people) can be considered modern-day slaves.

Historically, our main concern when it comes to Mauritania is modern-day slavery and in particular the violation of rights of people who speak out against this practice. There is a history of brutal crackdowns on anyone who dares to speak out against the perpetuation of slavery in Mauritania.  Anti-slavery activists often face arrest, physical abuse and detention on false charges.

One prime example is the case of Biram Dah Abeid, who is one of the most prominent anti-slavery activists in Mauritania. Being the son of a former slave himself, he dedicated his entire life to fighting this injustice and has, on numerous occasions, paid for his activism with his own freedom. Early last Tuesday, Biram Dah Abeid was arrested, it was no coincidence that Biram was arrested exactly on that day that was the deadline for candidates to register on the ballot with the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Ever since Biram’s arrest, he had only limited access to a legal representative and no contact with his family. We are also concerned because Mauritania has a sad track record of systematically torturing and ill-treating imprisoned anti-slavery activists, as well as routinely denying them fair processes and regular court proceedings.

Ahmed Tidiane, community leader in Columbus and associate of Biram Dah Abeid said:

I have known Biram since elementary school and have followed his entire career. He has dedicated his life to fighting slavery, racism, and human rights violations in Mauritania. The last time I saw him was July 24th in DC, when he was there to raise awareness that the problem of slavery in Mauritania continues.  The motivation behind his arrest is because he is running for parliament, and the government wants to silence him. His candidacy will only make the people’s voice louder and the police were desperate to find a way to arrest him under false claims. These charges should never have been taken seriously in the first place. It is clear that the government’s sole interest is silencing Biram and the people.

Julie Nemecek, a Columbus attorney with clients facing imminent deportation to Mauritania said:

In the case of the Black Mauritanian community, the Trump administration is engaging in and facilitating ethnic cleansing by sending Mauritanians back to a country that will enslave and persecute them. After the U.S. allowed Mauritanians to stay and apply for work visas, many lived and worked here lawfully for over 10 years. When Donald Trump took office he threatened visa sanctions and Mauritania responded by implementing a temporary travel pass – a “laissez-passer”- to allow a deportee to return to the country despite not being recognized as a citizen. Currently, there are over 200 Black Mauritanians in Ohio who could be deported at any time. Last night, I met with 12 detainees in Butler County Jail who face the threat of deportation next week. We are urging ICE to stop deporting Mauritanians back to slavery.  And we are urging the Mauritanian government to free Biram Dah Abeid.