‘Being a migrant is not fun. Nobody wants to be a migrant’: a story of Mauritania refugees

September 1, 2023 /

It’s a pretty general belief that people want to feel safe in their homes. Nobody wants to leave their home out of fear and start over in a place that does not know their language, traditions, or culture. 

Right now, thousands of people are leaving their homes in Mauritania because they do not feel safe. Police brutality of Black men and youth has become insufferable. 

The United States now holds refugees who are seeking asylum and a safer life in the States. Some of these refugees are here in Kern County.

“We left home seeking safety,” said Ibrahim, one of the young men being housed in Kern. “Police are supposed to protect people, but now the police are killing people. When I say people, I mean Black youth, Black children are being killed by the police.”

The fear and hurt caused by the brutality were very close to him because before he left home, one of his relatives was killed by the police. 

Finally, he, along with many others, decided to make the journey to the United States. First, they left Mauritania and went to Nicaragua, and from there, by car and foot, they went to Honduras before getting to Mexico, where they entered the states through Arizona. 

Throughout the journey, they not only had to find ways to hide from immigration police, but they also had to avoid criminals who would rob people traveling through the country at gunpoint. 

Due to having to stay consistently moving at one point, Oumar, one of the men staying in Kern, described having to cross a river that took 13 hours to get across. After the river, they were in Mexico, and Oumar had a friend he was able to call who knew someone in Mexico to get them a hotel for a night. 

When it was time to start moving again, they had to make sure not to take any main roads where it would be immigration police. Once in Mexico City, it was time to make their way to the U.S. border on a bus. 

“From Mexico City to the U.S. border, that was a very difficult journey as well,” said Oumar. “Once you get your ticket, the bus will take 48 hours to get there are always police at this checkpoint. Not only do they check us, but they remove our clothes.”

He described the next checkpoint as being worse because it came down to whether they had enough money to get through. At the checkpoint, they were asked for their passports and 500 pesos. If they did not have the money, their passports may get ripped up, according to Oumar.

“I had only 100 pesos, and I said this is for me to get something to eat,” said Oumar.

Oumar stated that someone paid for him to get through; however, people who did not have the money lost their passports and everything they had with them. They were left with nothing.

After this, they entered the United States through Arizona, where a couple of hours later, they were taken by customs. They spent 12 nights in a detention center where it was freezing cold, and they were given nothing but a blanket that was described as being like foil. 

From Arizona, they were transferred to the detention center in Adelanto, California. 

“We were handcuffed from hands to tummy all the way to our legs like a criminal,” said Oumar.  “Our freedom was taken away.”

Once in Adelanto, the handcuffs were removed, and they were put in jumpsuits. They remember feeling extreme hunger between meals. Breakfast was at 4:00 a.m., lunch was at 11:00 a.m., and dinner was at 4:00 p.m., so if they did not have money to buy extra food, there was nothing they could do. 

Sometimes, even when they had food, they were hesitant to eat it due to dietary restrictions and not knowing what meat they were being fed. 

Twenty days later, they were given a bond slip for $5,000 if they wanted to be let out; however, many of them had nothing to give. 

The treatment within the United States was the complete opposite of their hope when it came to seeking a safer life. They hoped for freedom and safety. 

“Our hope was when we go to the States, this is the country of freedom. This is the country we felt was safe. It’s a country where we’ll be away from fear,” said Oumar. 

Now, they do not believe they will be able to attain this hope. 

While they do not miss their country due to the violence, they do miss their parents and still fear for their safety. 

Their hope now for them is to remain in the United States and have a safe life, but they have no hope for their families back home. 

“There is no hope,” said Oumar

To immigration police and lawmakers, Oumar stated that they should treat people like human beings when they come to the States. 

“This is a violation of human rights… they should see people who are coming here as humans, but they’re not,” said Oumar. “Someone can die from it. Being handcuffed and thrown in an airplane.”

The High Desert Detention Center decided to release the refugees from Mauritania if they had an address to go to. Jeannie Parent, coordinator of  Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants (KWESI), was contacted, asking if she would be able to house some of the refugees. 

Parent explained that with KWESI, they had the opportunity to rent a house to help immigrants since COVID and have been housing people for certain periods of time since then. After she received word about the refugees, she contacted some volunteers, and now, between three homes 10 refugees were able to get housed. 

It was important for Parent to help because she does not believe that civil cases like immigration should result in being detained like criminals. 

“No one belongs in immigrant detention. It is an unnecessary evil. ICE will argue that they need to detain people so they show up for their hearings, and that simply isn’t true,” said Parent. 

According to Parent, 83 percent of immigrants who are not detained show up to their hearings, and when they have lawyers, it’s almost 100 percent of the time. 

“So it’s a bogus reason that they give to justify imprisoning immigrants. And it’s a for-profit corporation that makes billions of dollars,” said Parent. 

One of the volunteers who is housing the refugees, Gary, stated that if many of the people in Kern County who are still against immigration took the time to meet and get to know the refugees, they might change their minds. 

“I can understand their point of view to an extent. But I think if they really got to know the people that are coming and get to know them individually, it would change things a lot,” said Gary.

When asked if he was given a magic wand and could change anything, Oumar stated he’d have peace at home. 

“If I could do magic, I would have peace in my home country, equal rights, and justice for all. All colors would live together without fear,” said Oumar. “Being a migrant is not fun. Nobody wants to be a migrant and go somewhere else. I would stay in my home country if I were safe. If I had the power, it would be peace and fixing my country.”

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JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.