The collaboration of the Mauritanian government and its security forces with the Spanish authorities to control irregular immigration is working well. In recent months, the number of boats arriving in the Canary Islands from points along the long Mauritanian coast has been reduced to less than 5%.
Joint patrols formed by members of the Spanish Guardia Civil and the Mauritanian Gendarmerie are working well within the framework of a clear commitment to collaboration, which was reflected in the signing of a memorandum of understanding in other areas such as cultural, educational and scientific cooperation during the visit to Spain of Mauritanian President Mohammed Grazwani and his wife, Mariem Mohammed Fadel Dah, last March.
In recent years, Mauritania has become one of Spain's priority partners outside the European Union in strategic issues of security and stability, migration and trade cooperation, as well as for its fishing grounds, which are among the most important for Spanish vessels outside the EU. For three decades, Spanish cooperation has maintained programmes dedicated to improving health, food security, governance and the fight against gender-based violence.
At the headquarters of the Mauritanian Ministry of the Interior and Decentralisation in Nouakchott, we are received by Secretary General Mohammed Mahfoudh Ould Brahim Ahmed.
How is the collaboration between Mauritania and Spain developing in the control of migratory flows?
Mauritania is making great efforts to combat cross-border immigration and violent extremism, also in cooperation with Spain. As you know, Mauritania is an area of exchange between the Maghreb, Europe and West Africa. It is an area of transit and migratory flows, so the country is making a lot of efforts to counter illegal immigration, with great success.
Are you working with a collaborative strategy?
This is part of Mauritania's overall strategy. It is the overall security strategy. It ensures the control of the internal and external security of the country. Today, as the administration of the Ministry of the Interior responsible for the security of Mauritanian territory, we have a strategy that combines the presence of the administration and the reinforcement of the military and security apparatus, its equipment, its professionalisation and its projection capacity.
The Mauritanian government is characterised by its social action.
We have a development dimension to provide social services to the inhabitants of the territory. This strategy has been recognised as a good practice in terms of the approach to security. We count on the collaboration of Spain, the European Union and agencies such as Frontex. We can only rejoice in the good relations we have with Spain.
What are the results of Spanish cooperation in Mauritania?
There is a good relationship between Spanish civil society and the communities in Mauritania. We cooperate in training, for example, in the area of fishing. It was Spain that financed a hospital in Nouadhibou. Cooperation has many facets.
And in the field of your ministry?
We also have many cooperation projects between the Spanish and Mauritanian civil security forces. There is a collaboration agreement between the two structures, and the head of Mauritanian civil security is going to visit Spain soon. In other words, cooperation takes place in all areas, depending on the political will of the leaders.
Closer to the Canary Islands...
There is a particularity in our relations, which is our proximity to the Canary Islands. Exchanges with the Canary Islands are more intense. It is the closest Spanish region to Mauritania. There is a mutual relationship between the populations. This only strengthens the relationship between the two countries. Relations are often direct and friendly.
Is Mauritania a safe country?
We follow with great interest everything that happens in the region. Security is an international issue. There is an interdependence with the security of countries in the same area. The security of the world is linked. So, as far as the security of our region is concerned, we have a framework of cooperation, the G5 Sahel, which is based here in Mauritania. Our country is doing its best in this sub-regional security cooperation and we also have synergies with Europe. In the G5, we also count on the help of European countries. They are our partners. There is even a European force deployed. In other words, this organisation needs to be strengthened. There is more than just a security aspect that allows us to have good relations.
Does Mauritania have good relations with the whole world?
Of course, we do not intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, but we observe everything that happens in the region. We believe that with a framework like the G5 and the fact that Mauritania has very good relations with all the G5 countries, it is a favourable instrument to overcome the security threat. Mauritania will do its best to maintain this partnership in the region, both with Europe and with the United Nations.
Is the G5 working well?
The G5 is an instrument for the whole Sahel with a security and development approach. It is connected. We believe that the Mauritanian strategy, which has been successful, should continue. In this context, there is a special relationship between Spain and Mauritania and an interest in strengthening the relationship with the G5 in general. It is the same space of the Sahel, the Sahara, Africa and the Mediterranean.
To what extent is cooperation necessary?
The vision we have is that, for Mauritania's security, the essential effort must be made by Mauritania itself and the Sahel countries. This does not exclude our partners, but we rely first on our own means. Partners and allies are generally welcome. As I said, we have an instrument which is the G5, which is an instrument that is already working very well. We are grateful to partners who have helped us in the past and who continue to help the region.
International relations are based on self-respect and commitment to each other. Regional, cultural and historical proximity factors mean that ties take many forms. The region is open to the world. The idea is to build on national efforts and then on partnerships. But the security of the area is primarily the responsibility of each country.
Does Mauritania have its own policy and decision-making process?
I would say that Mauritania's priority is first and foremost Mauritania. It is true that the world has become a small global village. Globalisation, etc. Every time something happens somewhere, everybody knows about it and it has a general impact on the scene.
In Mauritania we have good relations with everybody, and we have autonomy of decision. Our decision is sovereign. We are a country with legitimate institutions that are elected by the Mauritanian people and that decide for the Mauritanian people. We respect our neighbours and partners. That is true, but Mauritania's interests are our priority. We respect other countries and we do not interfere in the affairs of other countries. This is the guideline for our management of international relations.
Is Mauritania very well connected?
Yes, we are fortunate, in addition to our strategic location, to belong to many organisations. We are in the Arab League, in the African Union, in the Council of Islamic Cooperation, in the United Nations, etc. We are in many organisations. This gives us a global platform for exchange.
Can Mauritania serve all the refugees arriving in the country or is it a source of instability?
I think it is an important question: Mauritania is not a country of origin of illegal immigration. It is a transit country. We have made a lot of efforts to welcome foreigners. In the border area with Mali we have a refugee camp with 74,000 people. Not counting those who pass through Nouadhibou to go to Europe.
Does good immigration management require a lot of effort?
The country has made a lot of efforts to receive refugees and settle them for a long period of time, which requires a lot of infrastructure. We have also prepared laws to protect refugees. I think this effort by Mauritania is to be welcomed. Of course, when there are many refugees, the risk of illegal immigration also increases. I think we have a clear strategy in this regard. It is about controlling this phenomenon.
What resources do you have to do this?
We have border posts, with biometric posts that register refugees at the moment of entry. People with refugee status go to camps, which is in line with international law. Being registered allows their movements to be tracked and helps prevent illegal immigration. So we need to strengthen the partnership that already exists, because the flow of refugees has also increased recently. On the other hand, we want a comprehensive approach to the reception of refugees. This development follows the camps, but also the region. This can provide water, electricity and other infrastructure. It creates serenity in the area.
Is Mauritania a hospitable country?
When Mauritania welcomes refugees, it welcomes them with hospitality. But it will also be necessary to work on the inclusion strategy. Border controls for biometric registration need to be strengthened. Everything we do is part of this overall strategy. The idea is to create income-generating activities in the camps that allow refugees to settle and stay there instead of going elsewhere to look for work. Because immigration is fundamentally economic.
We can invite Spanish tourists to Mauritania, which is a fantastic country, with very good beaches, fish and gastronomy.
Of course we can. I appeal to our Spanish friends because they are connected to us by Binter flights from the Canary Islands. I appeal to them to come and visit Mauritania. We have a huge tourist potential. 750 km of coastline. With the Banc d'Arguin, a protected natural area. We have the desert, which is also very touristy. We have cultural and multi-secular cities. Oasis, an agricultural area on the banks of the Senegal River. An agricultural area where there is livestock farming and a lot of production in this sector. A mining area, and in general we have tourist sites. Some are classified as Unesco heritage sites, others are in the process of being classified.
Can we highlight a few in particular?
In all the wilayas there are things to see. We have various cultures and languages to discover. Our ministry and our national tourism office take care of that. They participate in big international tourism fairs, like in Spain or Portugal, or even in Dubai. We have platforms to organise charter flights between Europe and certain cities in the country. We have the longest train in the world. We also have very clean air, we have almost no pollution. And we also have security. So I call on Spanish officials to come to Mauritania and establish links and partnerships for joint operations.
Mauritanians also travel to Spain.
Many Mauritanians go on holiday to Spain. In particular, they go to the Canary Islands. All these exchanges should increase. Mauritania has managed to cope with the pandemic and we have reinforced our vaccination campaigns, which have produced excellent results. For the moment, there are no more restrictions and the use of masks is not compulsory.
Are there any upcoming events that could attract Spanish tourists to Mauritania?
We have a tradition of welcome and hospitality. Now we have the Festival of Ancient Cities. It is an opportunity to have a large influx of tourists. We also promote Mauritanian handicrafts, which are of very good quality. This allows visitors to discover Mauritanian art. The country is ready to facilitate the arrival of Spanish tourists.