Migrants rescued by Spain on hunger strike at Mauritanian port

by Lorraine Williamson
migrants hunger strike

MADRID – Spain finds itself in a challenging predicament after Mauritania declined to accept 168 migrants that were rescued within Mauritanian territorial waters. Consequently, the patrol boat Río Tajo was barred from docking at the port of Nuadibú. 

Caught in a volatile situation, both the migrants and the crew of Spain’s Guardia Civil are in a precarious state. The Spanish patrol boat, which had intercepted a vessel carrying 168 migrants last Thursday, has since been obliged to anchor in the bay of Nuadibú, Mauritania’s commercial capital. As negotiations between the authorities of both nations progressed, tensions aboard escalated. It got to the point where Spanish agents discharged warning shots into the air. 


This incident has unfolded despite the longstanding cooperative relationship between Spain and Mauritania, particularly on issues concerning border security and immigration. Since 2009, Spain has been contributing over €10 million on an annual basis to aid Mauritania in countering illegal migration. 

Hunger strikes and medical issues on board 

The migrants, who were rescued, have initiated a hunger strike and spurned the breakfast offered to them on Saturday morning. The crew, who had earlier prepared rice and administered medical aid to the migrants, are facing a complex dilemma. Several migrants exhibit severe signs of dehydration, prompting calls for their immediate hospitalisation. This is a request that has yet to be addressed by Mauritanian officials. 

Spain’s vulnerable position 

The unwillingness of Mauritania to admit these migrants highlights the extent of Spain’s dependence on the fluctuating cooperative will of its African allies to manage migration. It throws into question the efficacy of the substantial investments made by Spain in third countries for the purpose of regulating migratory flows towards Europe. 

The unclear role of Frontex 

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, was mentioned as a potential mediator in this unfolding crisis. However, such claims have been unequivocally refuted by both Spain’s Guardia Civil and the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. 

As the Río Tajo remains anchored in the bay of Nuadibú, the situation continues to deteriorate. It is growing more complicated with each passing hour. Furthermore, meteorological conditions are worsening. And according to authorities, the journey to the Canary Islands is currently unfeasible due to unfavourable weather conditions. 

Also read: Over 1,000 migrants reach Spain by boat in the first half of August 

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