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Freedom Center’s Community Conversation on Mauritania

Credit: Houleye Thiam

US Deportations and Modern-Day Slavery in Mauritania

Cincinnati, OH – On May 11, 2019, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center hosted a panel discussion entitled “Community Conversations: US Deportations and Modern-Day Slavery in Mauritania.”  View photos from the event here.

Museum-goers and members of the greater Ohio community heard from Mauritanian leaders about the human rights abuses many Black Mauritanians are experiencing today at the hands of the ruling class, and the history of this situation.

With a change in deportation policy under Trump, many Americans born in Mauritania are facing deportation after more than twenty years living in safety in the United States–and directly experiencing these abuses yet again.

As Houleye Thiam, a Columbus community leader, described during the Freedom Center discussion, after being deported, Black Mauritanians are frequently arrested by the Mauritanian government for being “undocumented” in their native country. The only way they can secure freedom is by paying a bribe to officials. Immediately, most flee to another country–refugees yet again.

Panel attendees watched a video entitled “They took him,” from the Cincinnati Enquirer, which features 23 year-old Awa Harouna talking about how she has tried to be strong for her family after ICE arrested her father, Amadou Sow. Sow, a Cincinnati father of five, remains in an Ohio immigration jail today. He has been fighting his deportation for more than a year, and fears being deported to a country where his family was treated as slaves. A team of lawyers in the U.S., including Advocates for Basic Legal Equality and the Immigrant and Refugee Law Center, is working hard to defend these cases.  

See hyperlinks below for additional key points raised by panel moderator Julie LeMaster, Executive Director of the Immigrant & Refugee Law Center, and speakers Houleye Thiam, President, Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in US; Abdoulaye Sow, Communications Director, Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in US; Amadou Dia, community leader from Cincinnati; and Abdoul Mbow, community leader from Cincinnati.

Thanks to exposure in this article in The Atlantic, this Washington Post editorial, and programs like the one hosted by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the situation is starting to gain more exposure in the United States. The Freedom Center is a leading voice in the effort to combat slavery and worldwide. Board chair Reverend Damon Lynch, Jr., and President Dion Brown wrote an op-ed about the need to keep Black Mauritanians at home in Ohio in an op-ed published by the Cincinnati Enquirer: “No person deserves enslavement. Citizen or not,” they said.  

Resources:

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela

www.ohioimmigrant.org

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