World Refugee Survey 2008 - Cameroon

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Cameroon, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 21 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

CMR figures


Cameroon hosted 97,400 refugees and asylum seekers, including about 49,300 from the Central African Republic (CAR), 41,600 from Chad, and several thousand more from Nigeria, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and other countries. Many lived in the East and Adamawa Provinces.

The majority of refugees from CAR were ethnic Mbororo pastoralists, having fled kidnappings, armed attacks, persecution, and murder by rebel groups in the northwest region of CAR in various waves since 2005. Many Mbororo refugees from CAR lived in 50 settlements along the border. As tensions continued in northern and western CAR, some villages in Cameroon received 20 new refugees a day.

Some Chadians who had fled civil war in the early 1980s repatriated by 2001. Banditry and conflict in eastern Chad, however, led to an influx of Chadians into Cameroon in 2006. In early 2008, clashes between Government forces and rebel groups in N'Djamena drove at least 30,000 Chadian refugees over the border into Cameroon, although some estimates suggested it could have been 10 times that many. Cameroon's Deputy Immigration Chief in Borno State announced that Cameroon would not turn Chadian refugees away, and the Government decided in February 2008 to grant them status prima facie.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement in 2007.

Armed robbers and hijackers from CAR crossed into the East and Adamawa Provinces and assaulted Mbororo shepherds weekly in these areas that hosted more than 45,000 refugees. Rebel groups and armed bandits along the Cameroon-Chad border also assaulted Mbororo refugees, in addition to kidnapping and robbing them. Refugees often lived on the outskirts of cities in poor and violent neighborhoods.

Although Cameroon adopted a national law related to refugee status in 2005, the Government did not implement it. Instead, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continued to hear claims and make decisions on refugee status. Asylum seekers registered through the UNHCR office in Yaoundé. Applicants received appointment slips for eligibility interviews and waited up to five months for interviews. The law permitted denied applicants to appeal within 30 days of notification but did not allow ordinary courts to review decisions. Applicants submitted their appeal to a UNHCR office and had hearings with UNHCR within three months of filing their appeal. UNHCR received some 2,800 asylum applications and denied status to about 1,300 applicants. At year's end, nearly 2,200 applications were pending.

Cameroon was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, without reservation, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Cameroon's 2005 Refugee Law applied the refugee definitions of both Conventions and prohibited refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers for reasons other than national security and public order, pursuant to a lawful decision, and with 72-hour notice to UNHCR. Article 7 of the law stated that "no person shall be turned back at the border ... to return to a territory where that person's life, bodily integrity or freedom would be threatened."

The preamble of the Constitution stated, "every person shall have the right to settle in any place and to move about freely, subject to the statutory provisions concerning public law and order, security and tranquility."

Detention/Access to Courts

Cameroon detained more than 20 refugees and asylum seekers in 2007, mostly on criminal charges. UNHCR had to intervene on various occasions when authorities held detainees on wrongful illegal immigration charges. UNHCR also monitored the detention of refugees and asylum seekers.

Cameroon did not punish asylum seekers for illegal entry, provided they came directly from a country of threat and presented themselves immediately to the authorities, but the Refugee Law permitted 24 hours of detention, renewable twice. The U.S. State Department reported the torture and beating of detainees by security forces in Cameroon and described prison conditions as "harsh and life-threatening."

Detained refugees and asylum seekers could challenge their detention before independent tribunals, but had to hire attorneys at their own expense. The first phase of a European Union project for legal assistance to prisoners, including refugees and asylum seekers, ended in 2007. The second phase began in 2008, providing free counsel to certain refugees and asylum seekers. According to the Government, no refugees filed law suits in 2007.

The Government stopped issuing identity cards to refugees and asylum seekers in 1994. Instead, UNHCR issued asylum seeker and refugee certificates. The 2005 Refugee Law provided for the issuance of refugee identity cards but UNHCR issued more than 20,000 certificates to refugees and asylum seekers over age 18, generally within six days of registration. These certificates carried the holder's photo, but asylum seekers' appointment slips did not, and police occasionally confiscated these. Four days after asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, they received certificates bearing their pictures. Asylum seekers in the process of appealing denials received asylum seeker appeal certificates. While authorities in urban areas generally recognized these documents, police and gendarmes in rural areas occasionally did not and detained their bearers. Refugees recognized prima facie received only ration cards but these were not identity documents and provided no protection.

In 2007, the Government published a decree authorizing UNHCR to issue refugee identification cards. In early 2008, UNHCR gradually began replacing old refugee certificates with new, more durable identification cards. UNHCR claimed the new cards helped refugees avoid the police harassment they experienced with the refugee certificates.

Cameroon required all persons to carry identification cards, and in sweeps and at pervasive immigration enforcement checkpoints and roadblocks, police frequently arrested, beat, and extorted money from those with no documentation.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

There were no refugee camps in Cameroon. Registered refugees and asylum seekers with identity documents were generally free to travel throughout the country and settle where they pleased, but the Government required asylum seekers to notify immigration authorities of any change of address. Police and gendarmes extorted money from refugees who did not have refugee certificates when they tried to move around.

The Refugee Law entitled refugees to two-month, non-renewable "safe-conduct" passes, which confirmed they were in the process of regularizing their status and allowed them to travel freely throughout the country.

Although the Refugee Law gave refugees the right to international travel documents, only non-camp refugees recognized under UNHCR's mandate received them. Lack of identity documents seriously impeded the movement of Mbororo refugees who had to move their cattle seasonally for grazing. To apply for travel documents, refugees had to submit a UNHCR-issued refugee certificate, an invitation from a person sponsoring them to travel abroad, and a letter from their host or proof of employment in the destination country to UNHCR and the Ministry of External Relations, which confirmed the status of the applicant. The confirmed application then went to the National Police Headquarters which stamped and issued the travel document. The Government issued over 30 international travel documents.

The Government permitted such nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as the National Human Rights League of Cameroon and the Association of Refugees without Borders to assist refugees in choosing their place of residence and to protect their right to move around freely.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees the Government recognized prima facie and asylum seekers could not legally work. The Refugee Law, however, granted registered refugees the right to work, to own and transfer property, and to practice professions on par with nationals. The 1997 Entry and Residence Law covered others, requiring a work contract initialed by the Minister of Labor and a medical certificate by an approved doctor prior to arrival. The 1997 law also required anyone wishing to practice a profession or engage in industrial, agricultural, pastoral, commercial, craft, or artistic activities to have an entry visa of the required duration, which authorities had to authorize for the particular profession or activity. The Government did not require individually registered refugees to have work permits in order to work, as the law considered them on par with nationals in this respect, but no foreigner could work in the national civil services or state enterprises.

Registered refugees could engage in business and obtain almost all necessary licenses and permits on par with nationals. The Refugee Law permitted refugees to acquire, hold title, and transfer any private property. The Refugee Law also provided that refugees receive the same protections in labor and security as nationals, although in practice, unemployment insurance was available for neither nationals nor refugees.

According to the Government, most Mbororo cattle herders had permission to graze their cattle without legal restrictions. In some cases, local authorities allotted them pastoral plots.

Public Relief and Education

The Government cooperated with UNHCR and humanitarian agencies in assisting refugees. Cameroon did not provide public relief to its citizens or to refugees, but the Refugee Law granted refugees education and access to public health systems on par with nationals. Medical care was available for a fee to both refugees and nationals. Refugee students were eligible to receive educational funding provided by the Government or civil society organizations. UNHCR offered scholarships covering tuition fees and part of the cost of school supplies for urban refugees enrolled in the same primary schools as nationals.

UNHCR, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and several NGOs cooperated to distribute food aid in August to 26,000 CAR refugees. In December, NGOs and the UN announced that the majority of CAR refugees in Cameroon were diseased and malnourished. UNHCR estimated that 15 to 18 percent of infant CAR refugees were malnourished, and UNICEF reported that 17 percent of the children under five were malnourished. The refugees also suffered from tuberculosis, malaria, and typhoid disease.

UNHCR, the Red Cross, the Government, and World Vision assisted Chadian refugees who arrived in the remote town of Kousseri in early 2008. The International Federation of the Red Cross donated $272,000 to the Cameroon Red Cross Society to support operations for Chadian refugees and UNHCR planned to provide 90 tons of relief supplies, enough for 14,000 refugees.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 Chadian refugees who arrived in Cameroon in early February 2008 stayed in transit centers, while others stayed with relatives in Kissouri, or in schools and hotels. In February 2008, UNHCR planned to move the Chadian refugees to a camp in Maltam, which could accommodate some 100,000.

Cameroon did not include refugees in its 2007 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Progress Report for international donors.

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