World Refugee Survey 2008 - Congo-Brazzaville
|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 - Congo-Brazzaville, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485f50cb71.html [accessed 14 March 2014]|
The Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) hosted about 44,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2007. Some 33,800 from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) fled civil war in the 1990s and in 2004. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helped repatriate roughly 18,800 Kinshasa Congolese refugees during the year. In March, however, an estimated 200 people reportedly escaped to Congo-Brazzaville, following violence between the Kinshasa Congolese army and militias in Kinshasa. There were around 4,300 pending asylum applications from Kinshasa Congolese at the end of 2007.
Some 6,500 Rwandan refugees who fled their country in the 1990s remained in Congo-Brazzaville at year's end.
UNHCR ended its organized repatriation of Angolan refugees in early 2007 following the 2006 return of some 500 refugees to Mbanza Congo, Uíge, Luanda, and Cabinda. While UNHCR continued to promote their unassisted repatriation, 2,000 Angolan refugees remained, mostly in the southern Pointe-Noire region.
Several hundred more refugees and asylum seekers were from Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, and various other countries. In 2007, the country had some 1,000 new asylum seekers even as about 20,000 departed.
There were no reported cases of refoulement in 2007.
Authorities reportedly extradited one Kinshasa Congolese refugee to his country in March 2008 but, following negotiations, allowed him to return. Some refugees reported threats made by armed civilians. One asylum seeker who fled Congo-Kinshasa in May 2007 complained to the Government, UNHCR, and to a nongovernmental organization that Kinshasa Congolese security agents were threatening him in Brazzaville. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against refugee women and girls, particularly in the northeast, continued in part due to inadequate legal structures. There were some 178 documented cases of SGBV, including rape, in the Impfondo region, 18 in the Bétou zone, 7 in Brazzaville, and 3 in Pointe-Noire. UNHCR treated survivors at its drop-in centers at various refugee sites. In the Impfondo region, nine court cases were pending for nearly two years, leading many refugees to opt for informal resolutions rather than legal actions. Beatings of refugees and asylum seekers by law enforcement officials were common. There were also reports of violence by civilians against refugees.
The Government assumed responsibility for refugee status determinations from UNHCR in 2004. Asylum seekers applied to the National Committee for Assistance to Refugees (CNAR), often through UNHCR, until the CNAR closed its office in 2007 for lack of funds. Since then, the CNAR provided only minimal services through UNHCR. Even when it was entirely functional, the CNAR would have still required UNHCR's technical assistance for a number of years.
The 2001 Eligibility Decree drafted by CNAR established the Refugee Status Eligibility Commission (CESR). The six-member panel, of which a UNHCR representative was a voting member, decided asylum claims. The CESR was to notify applicants of its decisions within three months, but many refugees waited for more than three years. Rejected applicants had 30 days to appeal before a Refugee Appeal Commission, composed of six members, including one from UNHCR. Authorities allowed asylum seekers with pending appeals to remain in the country. Refugee Appeal Commission decisions were final. The Government permitted the assistance of counsel, at the applicant's expense, but there was no independent monitoring. Many refugees were unable to register because they were illiterate and unable to fill out the forms or translate their documents into French.
Congo-Brazzaville was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, but restricted the 1951 Convention's application to European refugees and exempted itself from the Protocol's enforcement provision which stated that disputes between States Parties over the interpretation or application of the Protocol could be referred to the International Court of Justice at the request of one of the disputing parties. The 2002 Constitution recognized a right of asylum and granted foreigners the same rights as nationals, subject to reciprocity by their countries to Brazzaville Congolese. The 1996 Entry and Residence Law provided that political refugees were not required to produce travel documents. The 2001 Eligibility Decree prohibited the refoulement of refugees or asylum seekers, under the definition of either Convention, except for reasons of national security or public order, after hearings, and after allowing UNHCR a reasonable time to resettle them.
CNAR had drafted a national refugee law, with the help of UNHCR, which it submitted to the Constitutional Court and the Parliament in 2006 but there was no progress by year's end.
Detention/Access to Courts
The Government continued to detain two asylum seekers and one refugee from Congo-Kinshasa at the headquarters of the military intelligence service without charge or access to courts. They were former members of the Kinshasa Congolese security forces, and the Brazzaville Congolese authorities believed that they were spies. Brazzaville authorities arrested them in 2004 as part of an agreement between the two countries to crack down on each other's opponents. Human rights nongovernmental organizations claimed the security agreements between the two countries led to arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, extradition, and forced disappearances and called for the release of detainees held by security forces in both countries.
On occasion, police officers arbitrarily arrested and detained asylum seekers in Brazzaville until UNHCR or other authorities intervened. While they detained none for illegal entry or unlawful employment, they detained several for short periods for irregular documentation or alleged criminal activity. Immigration officials also regularly stopped people and threatened to arrest them unless they were able to pay a bribe. If unable to pay, the officials held them at police stations or airports until they paid or authorities intervened.
The U.S. State Department called conditions in prisons and detention centers "harsh and life threatening," and reported that "detainees held at police stations often were subject to beatings, rapes ... and extortion."
Congo-Brazzaville's judicial system kept prisoners awaiting trials in prison. With the exception of UNHCR, no other independent bodies monitored detention facilities. There were virtually no functioning tribunals or lawyers' associations to represent refugees.
The Eligibility Decree prohibited detention or imprisonment of refugees for illegal entry and obliged the Government to issue them free, five-year identity cards through UNHCR. The Eligibility Decree also entitled asylum seekers and each family member over the age of 15 to a receipt, after filing their claims, valid as long as the claim was pending. Recognized refugees and their family members could apply for certificates of birth, death, and marriage, on par with nationals. Authorities generally respected the cards and, when they did not, CNAR or UNHCR, intervened. By year's end, UNHCR had assisted the CNAR in printing 1,670 refugee cards and distributing 85 percent of them.
The Constitution reserved to citizens its guarantees of equality and recognition before the law but also prohibited the arbitrary arrest or detention of anyone and extended to all accused the presumption of innocence and the right to legal defense.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Refugees could choose where they lived and moved around the country freely as long as they had either identity or registration cards. However, corrupt local officials extorted bribes from traveling refugees. Humanitarian agencies did not restrict aid to refugees residing in camps. The Constitution reserved to citizens the right to general freedom of movement within the country and the right to leave the country.
The Eligibility Decree provided that the Government issue refugees free travel permits. Refugees had access to international travel documents in addition to those for repatriation or resettlement.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Congo-Brazzaville allowed refugees with identity cards to work in all fields. The majority of refugees in Congo-Brazzaville, particularly in the north, worked in fishing or agriculture.
Although the Constitution reserved to citizens the right to work, form unions, and strike, the Eligibility Decree provided that the Government give recognized refugees, "to the extent possible," the same treatment as nationals with respect to employment. The 1996 Employment Law made no distinction between foreigners and nationals. The Entry and Residence Law, however, provided that foreigners had to have contracts to work. Pursuant to a 1960 collective agreement, they could also hold public sector jobs in education, medicine, agriculture, and other areas, after a period of training.
The Constitution extended to all persons the right to engage in enterprises and did not restrict to citizens the rights to own, inherit, and dispose of property, except intellectual property.
Public Relief and Education
The Government did not restrict humanitarian agencies' access to refugees. The Eligibility Decree provided that the Government give recognized refugees, "to the extent possible," the same treatment as nationals with respect to social aid, medical services, and education. The Constitution did not reserve to citizens its right to free public education.
Fifty-six percent of refugee children living in rural areas continued to attend schools; most continued to receive textbooks and school supplies. During the 2006-2007 academic year, 45 refugee girls of a total of 89 refugee students received academic scholarships in Brazzaville, and 17 refugee girls out of 39 refugee students received scholarships in Pointe-Noire. But unregistered refugees and some refugees in rural areas did not have access to primary education and public health services.
Some 20 health posts and mobile clinics served refugees, with 15 posts in Impfondo, 3 posts in Loukolela, 4 posts and 3 mobile clinics in Bétou, and 2 public health centers in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. Nevertheless, there were reports of malnutrition among refugee infants in Congo-Brazzaville.
UNHCR ceased its assistance to refugees in the Bétou refugee camp in April 2007 making it difficult for refugees to obtain drinkable water. An outbreak of a viral disease known as monkeypox in the northern region of Likouala affected mostly refugees under the age of 15 from Congo-Kinshasa. Some 93 settlements were accessible only by boat.
The World Food Programme received an aid package totaling $2.66 million from the Japanese Government to continue to assist refugees and internally displaced persons in Congo-Brazzaville.
Refugees received funding for income-generating programs, with 50 percent of $54,700 given to individual women and cooperatives of women involved in sewing, making soap, running bakeries, and processing cassava.
Congo-Brazzaville's 2004 Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for international donors referred to the socio-economic integration of "displaced persons" but did not refer to refugees specifically.