OIM MauritanieMauritania

Migration en Mauritanie: Profil national 2009

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Number of pages : 121
Format : Softcover
ISBN:: 978-92-9068-558-6
Language of Publication: French
Year of Publication: 2009

Mauritania has always been at the core of important migratory activities. Recent statistics show that it is a major immigration country for its neighbours, even though it essentially serves as a transit point. Indeed, according to the United Nations Population Division, the net migration rate (per 1,000 people) was positive from 1995 to 2000 (0.8) and from 2000 to 2005 (2.1). However, estimates for the coming years show a reversed trend: only 0.6 for the 2005- 2010 period and a negative trend, -1.1, for the period 2010-2015 (UNPD, 2008).

Immigration in Mauritania

According to the United Nations Population Division, the immigrant stock in mid-2005 was estimated at 66,053 people (including refugees), i.e. 2.2 per cent of the total population, and according to projections for 2010, it will reach almost a hundred thousand (99,299 people), i.e. 2.9 per cent of the total population. The annual growth rate of the immigrant stock was particularly unstable during the past decade, partly because of political tensions with Senegal, but for the period 2005-2010, an increase of 8.1 per cent was registered (UNPD, 2009). This seems to indicate that migrants in the sub-region have recently been attracted to Mauritania, notably as a transit point for a successful crossing into Europe. However, it must be borne in mind that survey and census data sometimes generate underestimations, due to the fact that some immigrants do not participate in such operations.

In 2000, the huge majority of immigrants, i.e. about 84 per cent, came from countries south of the Sahara, in particular, from Senegal (38%) and Mali (28%), which are immediate neighbours of Mauritania. With the activation in 2004 of the Nouakchott-Nouadhibou road linking the country to Morocco, an increasing number of North Africans often travel to Nouakchott (Sow, 2007).

These migrants include persons in transit to Europe as well as working migrants, who find a job in Mauritania for a relatively long period. The profile of jobs occupied by foreigners in the three cities of Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and Rosso show that 87 per cent work in the service sector, 37 per cent of whom do housework, 12 per cent are engaged in petty trade, 11 per cent work as drivers, 6 per cent work in food catering and the hotel industry, and 16 per cent in other petty trades (hairdressing, photographers, watchmen). The public works and civil engineering sector also employs about 6 per cent of foreigners engaged in masonry and unskilled labourers’ work. Most of these jobs are undertaken in the informal sector (EDFORE, 2007d).

Illegal migrants in transit, on their way to Europe through the Canary Islands, progressively increase the number of irregular migrants in Mauritania. The country has become a real hub for the trafficking of illegal immigrants heading for Europe. In 2006, an unprecedented number of illegal migrants (11,637) was returned to the borders (Ministry of Interior, RIM, 2008).

Mauritanian emigration

A recent study commissioned by the International Organization for Migration (de Haas, 2008), estimated the Mauritanian emigrant stock at 105,315 people, established in West Africa (65.6%), Central Africa (2.4%), Europe (20.6%), the Arab countries (0.3%), North America (2.5%) and in other countries (8.6%). This same source revealed the existence of 17,623 migrants born in Mauritania and registered in the major European countries of destination, including France (8,237 in 1999) and Spain (8,410 in 2006). Compared to all West African migrants living in OECD countries, the community of immigrants born in Mauritania and living in these countries represents only 1.4 per cent.

Concerning the emigrants’ level of education, Docquier and Marfouk revealed that in 2000, more than half of Mauritanian emigrants (63.4%) had a poor level of education (up to 8 years) and only 21.9 per cent had higher education. The emigration rate of highly skilled workers is 11.8 per cent (Docquier and Marfouk, 2005) and, as a result, brain drain is rather insignificant: 43 doctors (corresponding to 11.4% of the total) and 117 nurses (6.5% of the total) trained in the country have emigrated (Clemens and Petterson, 2006). According to the OECD database, Mauritanian emigrants are particularly active in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, in the manufacturing industry, or are engaged in trade (wholesale or retail) (OECD, 2008).

According to the UNESCO data, 2,664 Mauritanian nationals studied abroad; this corresponds to a 28 per cent mobility rate heading for foreign countries (UNESCO, 2008). The largest groups of students are found in Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Tunisia and France (Ministry of National Education, RIM, 2008).

The number of Mauritanian refugees increased regularly between 2000 and 2007 at a rate of 11.2 per cent during this period, i.e. an annual average of 1.6 per cent (HCR, 2008). In 2008, the HCR reported a total of 45,601 refugees, i.e. a 37.8 per cent increase (an additional 12,512 refugees in a year) (HCR, 2009), due to the discovery of a certain number of unregistered refugees in Senegal and Mali who emerged after the recent Mauritanian refugee repatriation operations. Concerning geographical zones in which these refugees are established, it is worth noting that the communities are mostly in Senegal, Mali, France and the United States in descending order according to size. The annual inflow of Mauritanian asylum seekers was estimated at 783 people in 2007, after reaching 4,651 in 2002 (HCR, 2008).

Factors driving migration

Real job opportunities and an unskilled local labour force often attracted foreigners from neighbouring countries to cover a chronic local labour deficit. The Mauritanian economy needs a growing number of craftsmen, labourers, technicians, senior technicians and other technical and vocational qualifications, in areas as diverse as public works and civil engineering, tourism, small and medium processing industry, small-scale fishing, and agro-pastoral economy. Even for low-skill jobs, such as those found in the public works and civil engineering sector – about 15 per cent of the informal sector labour force – the country often resorts to foreign workers, despite a high unemployment rate (MEIFP, 2008).

Foreigners are also encouraged to come to Mauritania because of political, legal and social factors, such as: easy access to the country, the nonbinding legal framework, the fact that foreigners are generally accepted by the population, the country’s stability and peacefulness compared to other countries affected by conflicts and internal violence. Even though Mauritania ceased to be a member of ECOWAS in 1999, the conditions of entry into Member States of this community remain unchanged, thanks to bilateral agreements with key neighbouring countries.

Another significant factor attracting migrants to Mauritania is its geographical proximity to Europe. Indeed, with the reinforced surveillance of the southern borders of Europe with North African countries, inflows of illegal migrants increasingly tend to reach the latter by transiting through Mauritanian territory and coasts, and heading for the Canary Islands (Spain). This situation became more pronounced with the activation of the road linking Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, which facilitates the liaison between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa.

The emigration of Mauritanians is explained by different factors relative to the reciprocal cultural and religious links with neighbouring countries and Arab countries, on the one hand, and on the other, to factors linked to the labour market in Mauritania and in the country of destination. The labour market is under pressure from uneducated job seekers. As a result of the dwindling opportunities offered by the national economy, even in the informal sector that is almost saturated, an increasing number of youths – often unskilled – are migrating abroad. It is also worth noting that there are circular migration opportunities linked to job offers according to the conditions of fixed-term contracts, but in reduced numbers, particularly in some countries of the Arabian Gulf and recently, in Spain.

The impact of migration on Mauritanian society

Immigration made it possible to offset an acknowledged shortage of skilled labour, notably in the fisheries, building construction and services sectors, and most recently, in the private education sector. This positive impact enabled the country to overcome a constraint which impeded the development of infrastructure and production in the decades following the country’s independence. After the recent inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI), particularly in extractive industries, the presence of skills drained by enterprises operating in these sectors further allowed the Mauritanian economy to acquire a new skilled labour force in these promising sectors.

The Mauritanian emigrants’ remittances play a crucial role in improving the standard of living of families left behind in the country of origin, notably through income distribution, houses built and other investment and incomegenerating activities (Ba, 2006). However, it is obvious that Mauritanian brain drain in search of better opportunities handicapped the development of some sectors of the Mauritanian economy. Policy framework and challenges of migration management Following the wide media coverage of attempts to cross the Atlantic through the Mauritanian coast, an initial plan for the management of these migrations and focused on the protection of borders, was rapidly prepared by the Mauritanian government. Likewise, an Interministerial Committee and a study group on the management of migratory flows (GEFM) were set up. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation was established between Mauritania and Europe.

As regards the management of foreign labour force, the Ministry of Employment developed a foreign labour management strategy, along with an implementation action plan, which provides for double anchorage at the national employment policy level on the one hand, and with regard to the management policy for the access, stay and establishment of foreigners in Mauritania, on the other. Its general objective is to manage foreign labour so as to better contribute to the country’s economic and social development.

The existing legal framework does not make room for the proper management of emerging migratory issues and the consideration of all international instruments ratified by Mauritania. Subsequently, the Mauritanian government prepared a bill which should be adopted soon, to make up for existing shortages. The consultative committee on asylum plays a key role in the coordination of government action in migration-related sectors. Proceedings are currently under way to support the government in the preparation of policy documents on asylum, migration and migrants’ rights. However, the analysis of the poverty reduction strategic paper shows that the migration dimension is virtually neglected in the country’s development planning.

Data gaps

The available data on migration have loopholes because of a deficit in the registration and dissemination of data from existing administrative sources, the irregularity and subjectivity of data collected through surveys and census operations.

However, over the past few years, the Mauritanian statistics system has been marked by the conduct of legal, institutional and technical reforms in connection with the more global implementation of the 2000-2005 Statistics Master Plan. These reforms were meant to enhance the operationality and efficiency of mechanisms to coordinate institutional and technical statistics, by bringing both the regulation and institutions up to standard. To this end, a new Statistics Act was adopted and a National Statistics Council set up. The ethics, quality and surveys committees are derivations of this National Council.