Tahir Mustafa Ould Saleh, international relations manager for the Mauritanian Red Crescent, attributes Monday's disaster, that saw more than 40 migrants die trying to reach Europe in poorly constructed boats, to the country's geography.

He told Aljazeera.net on Tuesday: "The country is vast, it is 1,030,000 sq km, with a population of just two million.

"Mauritania's social infrastructure is not such that it can control the movement of migrants. The borders are fluid."

Thousands of Africans leave their homelands every year on a hazardous journey by land and sea in the hope of a better life in Europe or elsewhere. But many drown or die in the attempt.

 

Foreigners

Saleh said: "The people who are escaping to Europe are not Mauritanian. They are all foreigners. We have people coming to the country from Southeast Asia, from Latin America and from central and western parts of Africa. They all travel to Mauritania to make their break for Europe."

Saleh could not confirm the exact number of survivors or victims from Monday's tragedy, but he said 44 people were being held by national security at Nouadhibou.

"On a humanitarian level, we are providing them with food and water. We do not know the nationality of these people. We help people regardless of their nationality, or religion. It is part of our national strategy."