Cross-border Activities Suspended While Thousands of Migrants Are Stranded in Mauritania Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Published Date: 
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 23:00

Nouakchott The thousands of Senegalese and Malians who used to swarm markets in Sélibabi, in the south of Mauritania, have now deserted the sale premises. Confined in Mauritania since the announcement of border closure on 25 March by the Mauritanian government as part of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response, they are bound to suspend their cross-border business activities. It is estimated that more than 1,500 migrants are stranded in Mauritania, the majority of whom are Malians and Senegalese. Left to their own devices with no alternative perspective, they are worried about their future and that of their loved ones.

“I’m stranded here, and I can’t send money to my parents and my wife because I have to use the money for food and rent bills,” said Malick Mbengue, a Senegalese confined to the city of Sélibabi. “Now, I can no longer support my family in Senegal, as I am facing a lay-off,” he concluded.

Malick is the father of three children. Since his arrival in Sélibabi in 2012 at the age of 29 as an itinerant merchant, he has been procuring goods and clothing in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. His last trip to the country dates back two months, just after the COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, he has been stranded in Sélibabi.

Like most governments in the region, Mauritania has applied border closure and internal movement restrictions to help contain the spread of the disease. But the government needs to be supported in strengthening health controls at entry points, sensitizing communities, supporting health workers and protecting the most vulnerable people across the country.

In a bid to support the local authorities’ efforts to combat this disease outbreak, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), supports Mauritania in the COVID-19 response. In addition to providing hygiene products to communities and medical equipment to health centres in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, IOM provided information and training sessions as well as health equipment to border officials and community leaders.

“Here in Mauritania, all Senegalese nationals follow the instructions and preventive measures implemented by the Mauritanian government,” added Malick. Community leaders show self-support through initiatives led by the communities, including the identification of people in vulnerable situations and protection of migrants expelled from their homes due to rent arrears.

Effective public health action and COVID-19 prevention also require solidarity among populations. “Even though I have exhausted all my savings and am living in a very difficult situation, I call on everyone to show civic-mindedness and responsibility in the fight against this virus. I hope to be able to visit my family and resume my normal activities,” said Doulo Samba, a Senegalese shopkeeper stranded in Mauritania.

To prepare for the reopening of the borders and in support of the Mauritanian government, IOM, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also launched the construction of isolation units along the border crossing points, which will be essential tools in the epidemiological surveillance and prevention of the disease spread.

“Since my arrival, I have been doing nothing. I just hope that the border will open soon, by the grace of God, because this disease is to be taken seriously. I welcome the decision made by countries of the sub-region to close borders, despite the negative impact on migrants in particular,” said Aminata Diallo, a Malian migrant who left Sélibabi for Bamako, and who now finds herself stranded at the border between Mauritania and Mali.

IOM’s support to the Mauritanian government in the COVID-19 response was funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to foster Migrant Protection and Reintegration as well as Strengthening Border Management in Mauritania through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative.