World Refugee Survey 2008 - Central African Republic
|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 - Central African Republic, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485f50c853.html [accessed 23 September 2014]|
In 2007, the Central African Republic (CAR) hosted nearly 9,500 refugees and asylum seekers, several thousand each from Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), and Chad, as well as smaller caseloads from the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Angola, and other nationalities. Most refugees lived in the capital, Bangui, or in Sam Ouandja, a refugee camp in northeastern CAR, but smaller populations from southern Sudan and Congo-Kinshasa lived in the Mboki and Molangue settlements.
Since February 2006, about 8,400 refugees returned to Sudan on UNHCR and International Organization for Migration flights, including the last convoy that repatriated in April. An additional 1,300 Sudanese repatriated without help. In May and June, however, janjaweed-led armed attacks in the southern Darfur town of Um Dafak drove 2,600 Sudanese into CAR. The refugees had traveled on foot for ten days, arriving in CAR in poor health. By the end of June, around 2,600 refugees from the Masalit, Fur, Dojou, Tama, and Kara ethnic communities had registered with UNHCR and its governmental partner, the National Refugee Commission (CNR). UNHCR monitored the groups arriving in Sam Ouandja after reports suggested that armed rebels had mixed in with the southern Sudanese refugees. At year's end, there were about 4,500 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in CAR, most lived in Sam Ouandja and Bangui. An additional 200 south Sudanese refugees remained in the Mboki settlement in southeastern CAR after the repatriation operation.
Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa arrived during and after decades of conflict and the 1998 to 2002 civil war. In October, UNHCR completed the voluntary repatriation operation, helping some 5,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa return to their villages since the program began in 2003. Most refugees returned to the Equateur Province in northwest Congo-Kinshasa, from which they originated. Some 2,600 Kinshasa Congolese refugees and asylum seekers remained in CAR at the end of the year, of which about 100 lived in the Molangue settlement in southwestern CAR, and the rest in Bangui.
Many Chadian refugees who fled civil war in the 1980s had already repatriated. However, at year's end, some 1,600 remained in CAR, the vast majority of them in Bangui. More than 600 refugees from various nationalities also lived in Bangui.
There were no reports of refoulement in 2007.
Fighting continued in the northwest and armed bandits attacked and kidnapped people for ransom in northern CAR. Uniformed men assaulted refugees, particularly Congolese and Chadians.
CAR was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa without reservation. The 1990 Constitution provided that ratified treaties such as the 1951 Convention were a higher source of authority than local laws. While the country had no law defining refugee status until 2007 (see below), a 1983 ordinance had established CNR under the Ministry of Interior, which granted asylum in accordance with both Conventions.
Asylum seekers could present their applications either directly to CNR, local authorities at the border, UNHCR, or other international organizations. Applicants had to submit declarations of nationality and identity documents, where available. CNR's protection section conducted preliminary interviews and issued attestations of asylum seeker status. The Sub-Commission of Eligibility then determined whether to grant refugee status with a UNHCR observer. Interpreters were available when necessary.
At the end of November, the National Assembly adopted the Law on the Status of Refugees (Refugee Law), which guaranteed refugees the right to apply for asylum and the right to gain recognition as refugees if they met eligibility requirements as outlined in international treaties, and established an appeal body for asylum seekers to submit petitions regarding denials. The Government issued attestations to asylum seekers and their dependents following initial interviews. The attestations served as renewable three-month residency permits, as well as identity documents. According to the new law, the Government had to transfer the applications to the Secretary General within three months, and the Sub-Commission of Eligibility had to notify applicants within 30 days on the outcome. While rejected applicants legally had the right to appeal to an administrative court, in practice, until November 2007, it was the Sub-Commission of Eligibility that heard appeals of the applications that it had rejected in the first instance. The new Refugee Law, however, provided for the possibility of appeal through a distinct administrative body, separate from the Sub-Commission. Henceforth, rejected applicants had 30 days to appeal a denial through the Commission of Appeal, but they had to hire attorneys at their own expense. The Commission of Appeal then made a decision within 30 days and notified the applicant and UNHCR. If denied, applicants had 90 days to appeal the denial in the administrative court. The Refugee Law allowed for independent monitoring by UNHCR.
CNR received 450 asylum applications, with some 250 from Kinshasa Congolese, over 100 from Chadians, and nearly 40 from Sudanese applicants. The Sub-Commission of Eligibility approved some 350 applications for asylum and denied about 20. Nearly 2,000 cases were pending at the end of the year.
Detention/Access to Courts
In 2007, authorities arrested refugees and asylum seekers for reasons ranging from lack of identification of refugee status to illegal movement. In cases of arbitrary arrest, some managed their own release, and others, with the help of UNHCR or CNR. Authorities also arrested 15 asylum seekers and 10 refugees for political opinions they imputed to them. According to the U.S. State Department, refugees were more vulnerable to arrest and detention than were nationals. Authorities sometimes detained refugees for prolonged periods without any official charges, especially the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry, known for mistreating detainees. UNHCR and CNR frequently intervened to identify refugees and asylum seekers, to help release them from detention, and to educate police officers and other authorities about the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to identify the detention of possible refugees or asylum seekers in military camps or prisons in Bangui.
Refugees generally had access to counsel, but the law did not guarantee this during often lengthy pre-trial investigations. With legal advice provided by UNHCR and CNR in 2007, several refugees appeared in court to vindicate their labor rights.
Refugees and asylum seekers were eligible to receive various forms of identity documents, including attestations for pending asylum applications, written notifications of refugee status, and refugee identity cards. All applications were free and processed by CNR. Asylum seekers received an attestation while their final status was pending. The Government generally did not issue identity cards to refugees in rural areas, but they could apply for these or passes in case of domestic travel. UNHCR and CNR registered refugees of Molangue and Sam Ouandja settlements and issued identity documents. UNHCR requested that CNR review its procedures for granting refugee identity cards, which ultimately reduced some delays, but bribery and lack of transparency continued.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The Government authorized documented refugees to move freely about the country, but security forces and unidentified armed groups stopped and harassed both refugees and nationals at roadside stops. Security forces at arbitrary checkpoints also extorted money from refugees and detained them, claiming that their identification documents were false. Conflict in the northwest led to greater document controls. Those without identity cards had to apply for domestic travel passes from CNR or the nearest police station. While refugees generally did not experience restrictions on their residence, the Government required them to register and report any change of address.
UNHCR and CNR decided all requests for international travel documents based on a need to travel for employment, education, medical, or other justifiable reasons. CNR issued the documents, which were valid for three years and were renewable. In 2007, UNHCR received 130 requests for Convention Travel Documents and authorities issued nearly 50. The CNR also issued safe-conduct passes to refugees for travel to other countries of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon).
Right to Earn a Livelihood
While the new Refugee Law gave refugees access to the labor market, law enforcement officials frequently harassed and extorted bribes from self-employed refugees. Throughout the year, UNHCR and the CNR had to intervene to negotiate the release of detained refugees and asylum seekers whom authorities had targeted due to their commercial successes, particularly Rwandans. The host population was often hostile toward both Kinshasa Congolese refugees in Molangue and urban Rwandan refugees due to their relative economic success.
The process of initiating a case against an employer in Labor Court was lengthy and expensive for refugees, and often did not result in their winning. Some refugees had difficulty in obtaining their pensions, and others working in the informal sector had their salaries withheld by employers.
A 1985 ordinance required foreigners to have prior approval to practice many professions. Licenses were particularly difficult for refugees to obtain because of administrative obstacles including a requirement of proof from the authorities in their country of origin that they had no criminal record.
Refugees had the legal right to own and transfer properties and business premises, but security forces routinely extorted money from them for their commercial activities. They could open bank accounts with their refugee cards but UNHCR often had to issue letters explaining the rights conferred by these cards.
Public Relief and Education
The Government cooperated with ICRC, Doctors Without Borders, Caritas, International Cooperation, and UNHCR in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The World Food Programme encountered logistical difficulties in delivering food supplies to refugees and had to airlift food into camps for the Sudanese refugees from Darfur who arrived in Sam Ouandja in May and June.
Refugees and asylum seekers were eligible for the same health services as nationals. While UNHCR and CNR provided anti-retro viral (ARV) treatments to refugees and offered them food and psychological support, HIV-positive refugees reported that they had difficulties obtaining ARV treatments. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria granted $25 million to CAR in 2004, but very few people who required ARV treatment, including refugees, had received it by January.
The new Refugee Law entitled refugees to social services, access to medical services, and education on par with nationals.
In its 2006 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper – Preparation Status Report for international donors, CAR did not include refugees.