Mohammed Abdullah Dea served in the Mauritanian army before he and more than 60,000 black Mauritanians were expelled to Senegal between 1989 and 1990. The recently elected Mauritanian government has announced that exiled refugees are to be welcomed back. Dea gave IRIN his personal account of being tortured the last time he went back.
“In 1989, I was thrown out of my country along with thousands of other black Mauritanians. They came for us in government trucks, systematically choosing those with black skin. They drove us across the border, some of us didn’t have shoes; none of us were able to take anything of value with us. Most of us were separated from our families.
“I stayed in northern Senegal with the other refugees until 22 April, 1990. On that day, I risked crossing the Senegal River back into Mauritania to try and find my parents who I’d been forced to leave behind.
“The next day, on 23 April, military officials in southern Mauritania caught me and arrested me. I was taken to Noumghar Camp, 250 miles north of [the Mauritanian capital] Nouakchott. I could never count how many others were in the camp but I became aware that all those being held were all former Mauritanian military officials, and all of us were black.
“Upon my arrival there I was submitted to a form of torture known as the ‘jaguar’ in which one’s feet and hands are tied to a single iron bar. The bar is then hung from the ceiling, parallel to the floor. They left me like that for hours and hours.
“After that I wasn’t allowed to see the sun for a year and a half. My skin became grey and leathery; I lost most of my hair and many of my teeth. My limbs were always swollen from being tied too tightly. I was regularly beaten and given electric shocks. I was in pain all the time and once, the guards at the camp beat me hard enough to put me in a coma for three days.
“In November 1991, without warning, I was taken from the camp and dumped back just across the border in Senegal. I’ve been in Senegal since then.
“Recently, at a meeting for refugees to organise our return home, I met a man who went through the same treatment at the same camp. What he recounted was exactly what I remembered happening to me. He even described being in the same room where I was held for so many months. I began to cry. I had thought I was the only survivor at the camp. He told me that there were three other survivors in Senegal.
“When I think back on it, it was as if the Mauritanian government had planned to carry out genocide but didn’t follow through. The international community didn’t know what was happening. No attention was paid to our pain. Even today, the world is unaware of the true horrors we went through.
“It may seem strange that I am now willing to go back to the country that did this to me, but I think the situation has improved. I will go back now in search of justice for these things and to fight for the soul of my country so that future generations will not experience the same things I experienced.”