Mauritania has put the Civil Guard in trouble. On Thursday, after a Spanish patrol boat intercepted a canoe with 168 people, the agents could not take them to the port of Nouadhibou, the commercial capital of the African country. Neither the Gendarmerie nor the Mauritanian Navy authorized the Río Tagus to dock, nor to disembark the rescued, who had presumably left Senegal and were intercepted later, when they were more than 80 nautical miles (148 kilometers) from the Mauritanian coasts. While the contacts between the authorities of both countries took place, the tension grew on board and the Spanish agents ended up firing their weapons into the air. Immersed in a completely unusual episode, the ship has been at anchor since Thursday night waiting for news. Although some information indicated that the patrol boat would head to the Canary Islands, with agents and migrants on board, the Ministry of the Interior strongly denies this.
Events were precipitating: prevented from even docking in the port, the 20 agents that make up the crew of the Tagus River —one of the largest ships in the Civil Guard fleet— had to anchor in the bay of Nouadhibou to wait. of higher orders. The crew cooked rice, fed the rescued and treated the wounded (most due to dehydration), but the tension ended up spilling over and the agents decided to shoot into the air to control the group. The incident led to the addition of 16 other civil guards stationed in Mauritania to the crew of the patrol boat. Tempers calmed down, those rescued spent the night on the deck of the ship, almost 53 meters long.
The day after the rescue, communication with the Mauritanian authorities was still unsuccessful and the ship remained at anchor. Since 2016, the African country has received more than 10 million euros a year to help contain irregular immigration. The economic agreement covers training of its agents or purchase of material, from vehicles to passport readers, allowances, fuel expenses… Spain even pays the expenses of a Mauritanian agent – there is also a Moroccan one – who works closely with the Civil Guard at the Regional Coordination Center of Gran Canaria. The collaboration between the two usually serves as an example for Spain, which has been committed to this model since 2006 after the so-called canoe crisis, to show its European partners the importance of financing third countries to keep migrants away from European borders .
Migrants aboard the ‘Tajo River’.
In addition, Nouakchott —unlike Rabat, which receives 30 million euros a year— allows the Civil Guard to act in its territory to prevent immigrants from leaving, whether by land or sea. A third of the almost one hundred agents that the armed institute has deployed in Africa are in Mauritania on information missions and action against irregular immigration. Spain also has two ships, a helicopter and a land patrol in the country. Although the media are concentrated to a greater extent in Senegal, from where dozens of canoes have been leaving in the last three months, Mauritania is one of the main ports of embarkation for migrants and refugees heading to the Canary Islands.
In theory, according to sources dedicated to border control, “Mauritania always complies.” In addition, the figures for the interception of migrants and refugees who try to reach the Canary Islands from its coasts (close to 40% of those who try) place the country as one of the countries that most blocks migratory transit, be it with detentions or expulsions of migrants. neighbor countries. Sources from the Ministry of the Interior describe the relationship as “excellent” and point out that this year only five boats from this country have arrived in the Canary Islands. The episode, they add, does not affect the good harmony of both partners.
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The refusal to accept the entry of these 168 people, in addition to being unusual, reveals, once again, Spain’s dependence on the willingness (sometimes changing) of its African partners to collaborate.
Some of the 168 people rescued, in the ‘Tajo River’.
The Unified Association of Civil Guards (AUGC) has assigned Frontex, the European border agency, a negotiating role in this episode. This version has been denied to EL PAÍS by sources from the Civil Guard and the Ministry of the Interior. Frontex, firstly, does not have a presence in Mauritania and, secondly, it would be exceeding its powers if it negotiated the disembarkation of immigrants on behalf of Spain.
In reality, negotiations with the authorities of third countries in cases like this depend on the acting Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska. Specifically, from its General Directorate of International Relations and Immigration, the department from which the memorandums with African countries are signed to fight against irregular immigration.
Back in the patrol car, while the calls continued, the rescued decided to go on a hunger strike and refused breakfast on Saturday morning. None of the sources consulted has explained the reason for the group’s discomfort and nervousness, but in addition to the circumstances of a precarious trip, several people on the deck, which is not prepared for these missions to last like this, suffered blows from heat. In addition, one of the boys presents a somewhat more serious diagnosis with a picture of dehydration, according to sources familiar with the situation on board. In fact, the agents asked Mauritania for his hospitalization. Until Saturday night, the request had not been met, although a doctor was sent on board.
The attempted hunger strike also ended in conflict and aggression when one of those rescued decided to eat against the supposed will of the group, according to police sources. The agents intervened again, although this time without weapons. Security on the ship was reinforced and they negotiated with what appears to be the leader. Meals resumed.
The AUCG has denounced the “poor safety and hygiene conditions” on the boat and demands “urgent solutions” from the Interior. The situation on board becomes more complicated as the hours go by. Although awnings have been improvised on the deck to protect the migrants from the sun, they have to relieve themselves in buckets or overboard. The weather conditions are also worsening. According to the AUGC, not even with an order from Madrid could they head to the Canary Islands due to bad weather, and the possibility of taking them back to Senegal is ruled out.
With no response from the Mauritanian authorities, the Tagus River continues to navigate in the Bay of Nouadibou. The Ministry of the Interior assures that the ship is still awaiting authorization to dock at the port and that there is no intention of taking the rescued to Spain.
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