World Refugee Survey 2008 - Benin
|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 - Benin, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485f50c31b.html [accessed 30 January 2015]|
Benin hosted nearly 8,400 refugees and asylum seekers, most from Togo but also 700 from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), and several hundred each from the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Chad, Nigeria, and Rwanda.
At year's end, about 5,500 Togolese remained in the Agame and Kpomasse camps and in urban areas. Some 27,000 Togolese refugees fled to Benin following 2005 election violence, but many returned home the next year as conditions improved in Togo. This led to the closure of Come camp, and the population of Agame camp dropped from about 5,300 to roughly 3,000 due to relocation to urban areas, voluntary repatriation, and some third-country resettlement. Agame camp hosted mostly Togolese refugees, while Kpomasse housed about 700 refugees from Nigeria, Togo, Rwanda, Somalia, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, and Chad.
Since 2006, Benin hosted some 30 soldiers from a Chadian rebel group in irregular status without seeking to expel them. Authorities were reviewing their individually submitted asylum status applications in 2007. During 2007, some 430 asylum seekers applied, including some 180 from Congo-Kinshasa, about 60 from Chad, and around 40 from Nigeria. The Government decided 810 cases during the year, approving nearly 30 and rejecting about 690. Of the nearly 1,900 refugees who repatriated in 2007, almost all returned to Togo, but some 40 refugees repatriated to various other African countries. Australia, the United States, and Canada accepted about 150 refugees for resettlement. In 2007, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began to transfer more of its refugee status determination (RSD) responsibilities to the Government. However, UNHCR's Regional Representation office in Benin remained open and also covered operations in Burkina-Faso, Niger, and Togo.
There were no reported cases of refoulement in 2007.
While the U.S. State Department noted that the Government did not always provide adequate security in camps, it did not report instances of physical harm targeted at refugees. Two refugee children died, however, in a fire at Agame camp in March.
The Government accorded Togolese refugee status prima facie based on the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). Pursuant to a 1975 ordinance on refugees and a 1984 implementing decree, a 1997 decree governed Benin's RSD procedure. The 1997 decree created within the Ministry of the Interior a National Commission in Charge of Refugees (CNR), which consisted of an Eligibility Committee and an Assistance Committee. The Eligibility Committee, comprising six members from various ministries and headed by a representative from the Ministry of the Interior, examined requests for refugee status.
According to the 1997 decree, asylum seekers could approach UNHCR, the Ministry of the Interior, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation to lodge asylum claims. In most cases, asylum seekers presented themselves to the UNHCR office in Cotonou, where asylum seekers completed registration forms and Government staff working from within UNHCR's office explained the RSD procedure to them. Authorities registered asylum seekers' information into a database, photographed them, and created individualized files under their names. Asylum seekers received an appointment notice for RSD interviews, for which translators or legal practitioners could assist them. After conducting initial interviews, evaluations, and research, the CNR Permanent Secretary presented the cases to the CNR Eligibility Committee for review.
The Eligibility Committee met once a week, examining and making recommendations on asylum cases to the Minister of the Interior, who ultimately rejected or approved them. UNHCR played a consultative role during Eligibility Committee sessions. Once the Ministry of the Interior confirmed the Committee's recommendation, the Permanent Secretary of the Eligibility Committee informed asylum seekers of decisions.
A separate Appeals Committee established in 2006 reviewed cases denied by the Eligibility Committee within 30 days of the denial. During the year, the Appeal Committee processed 135 cases, approved 4, rejected 122, and had 9 pending cases at year's end. Those who failed could still apply for a residence permit through the Immigration Office.
Benin was party to the 1951 Convention, without reservation, its 1967 Protocol, and the African Refugee Convention. Benin's 1990 Constitution provided that treaties were superior in authority to statutes and that foreigners had the same rights and liberties as citizens under conditions determined by law. As Benin was a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), it did not require nationals from other ECOWAS member states to have visas to enter. Nationals of member states of ECOWAS, such as Togo, were eligible for residence permits whether they were refugees or not. The annual fee for an ECOWAS residence permit was about $40.
In April, UNHCR and the Governments of Benin and Togo signed a tripartite agreement to aid the repatriation of the remaining Togolese refugees in Benin. Benin agreed to inform refugees of the security situation in Togo and to allow them to decide whether they wished to repatriate; to continue to give UNHCR access to refugees on its territory; to exempt repatriating refugees from taxes on their personal property and from customs laws; and to ensure the physical protection of repatriating refugees. Togolese government ministers visited camps to encourage remaining Togolese refugees to repatriate.
Detention/Access to Courts
There were no reports of arrest or detention of refugees based on illegal presence or for exercising their rights during the year. The detention of refugees in Benin was subject to independent judicial investigations. Refugees had access to courts on par with nationals and had the right to counsel. In cases of financial difficulty, legal practitioners trained by UNHCR and Amnesty International provided counsel to refugees and asylum seekers. Several refugees detained on criminal charges in 2007 received the assistance of an attorney, and UNHCR had the right to visit them in detention.
Following individual interviews, UNHCR issued temporary attestations to asylum seekers. Attestations counted as residence permits and were valid for a period of three months and renewable until authorities made a final decision on the asylum seeker's case. UNHCR also issued temporary attestations to refugees waiting to receive identity cards.
Recognized refugees applied for three-year renewable identity cards through the Office of Prevention and Civil Protection (DPPC), a government structure responsible for the legal and administrative protection of refugees. In 2007, the DPPC issued over 5,000 refugee identity cards, which police and other authorities accepted. Some 1,000 refugees had their identification cards renewed.
The Constitution extended to all persons the presumption of innocence and equality before the law and its protections against arbitrary arrest, ex post facto punishment, and detention past 48 hours without presentation before a judge.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Benin allowed refugees and asylum seekers to move about and choose their places of residence on par with nationals.
Identification controls were rare and occurred only late at night following cases of banditry or other exceptional security scares. Refugees with identity cards were reportedly able to pass freely through these checks. Benin reserved the right, however, to choose their location of residence for reasons of physical protection, available space, favorable conditions, and integration into surrounding areas. Some restrictions also existed on the movement of minors. The Government asked refugees in Agame camp to complete forms if they would be leaving the camp but did not require it and not all refugees complied.
Refugees had the right to international travel documents including Convention Travel Documents or laissez-passers. Refugee cards also permitted them to travel to ECOWAS countries. While a 1984 decree provided that refugees "will receive" international travel documents "upon their request," UNHCR decided whether to recommend that the Government issue international travel documents to refugees on a case-by-case basis, reevaluating whether the applicants still merited refugee status and whether their grounds for the documents were reasonable. In practice, many refugees could travel in the region without official travel documents.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Benin gave refugees the right to work and they worked in both commercial and agricultural sectors. The Constitution extended to all persons the protection of property rights and to all workers the right to organize and to strike, but reserved for citizens the guarantee of equal access to employment.
A 1975 ordinance entitled refugees to national treatment with respect to wage labor in the private sector, although reportedly not all employers were aware of this. With regard to profession, the 1975 ordinance afforded refugees the same rights as other foreigners. The Government generally restricted civil service jobs to nationals, but could fill them with qualified refugees if necessary – which it did in public health institutions and schools.
Refugees cultivated land with local authorization and dominated the produce markets along the coast. With the Government's encouragement, their enterprises employed other refugees and Beninese. Some refugees, however, reportedly did not seek work because they thought it would hurt their chances for resettlement.
Refugees could acquire, own, and transfer property of all types and hold bank accounts.
Public Relief and Education
The Government cooperated with UNHCR and other aid organizations to assist refugees. Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) combined their efforts with UNHCR to provide necessary food and shelter assistance to refugees.
Refugees and asylum seekers with six-month renewable certificates had access to the same health and education services as nationals. UNHCR covered 80 percent of health service costs for refugees in urban areas, as well as 100 percent of the cost for refugees in Agame camp, including those with HIV/AIDS. Beginning in early 2008, however, UNHCR transferred medical and educational facilities outside the camps, integrating them into local village infrastructure. UNHCR and local donors built new schools and colleges and rehabilitated the medical center. UNHCR ensured adequate staffing was available in the medical center for locals and refugees. As of 2008, refugees in Benin began visiting health centers in town and cities rather than in the camps.
The Constitution reserved for citizens the guarantees of equal access to health and education, but the specific provision for public primary education had no such limitation. The Constitution stipulated that primary education was mandatory and that the State would gradually provide free public education. The 1975 ordinance granted refugees the same rights as nationals to education and scholarship funding.
UNHCR subsidized tuition for refugees enrolled in public schools and provided the funds directly to parents of refugee children to cover their educational costs. UNHCR closed all schools in refugee camps and refugee children enrolled in public schools as of the 2007-2008 academic year. UNHCR constructed new primary and secondary school classrooms in Koudo village close to Agame camp to encourage refugees and local children to attend school together.
Benin's 2007 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Annual Progress Report prepared for international donors did not include refugees.