U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Congo-Brazzaville
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||11 July 2007|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Congo-Brazzaville, 11 July 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4696387e2.html [accessed 27 August 2014]|
In August, the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), appeared to allow agents of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) to enter and abduct and forcibly return asylum applicant Hassan Alfani to Congo-Kinshasa where authorities arrested and tortured him for 11 days. After his release, he reentered and reapplied for asylum. In October, the Government again failed to prevent Kinshasa authorities from abducting, forcibly returning, and imprisoning him and his brother, Césaire Muzima Mwenyezi, and Fils Murhanzi, who had just escaped from prison in Congo-Kinshasa. In 2003, a Military Order Court there had convicted and sentenced them to life in prison, along with several dozen other political detainees, in a trial that Amnesty International called unfair.
Congo-Brazzaville had also deported Mwenyezi to Congo-Kinshasa in 2001 where authorities tortured him. Authorities in Congo-Kinshasa had imprisoned Alfani for the assassination of President Kabila, but a court later acquitted him. Mwenyezi's wife, Christine Mapitshi, entered with the three and authorities arrested her as well but later released her. She remained in Brazzaville with her baby, where the security services reportedly harassed them.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) condemned a rise in violence against refugees in Brazzaville, Loukoléla, and Betou. In Impfondo, police found the bodies of at least two Rwandan refugees covered in gashes and bruises. Police and gendarmes frequently beat refugees and asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers applied to the National Committee for Assistance to Refugees (CNAR), often through UNHCR. The six-member panel of the Refugee Status Eligibility Commission (RSEC), of which a UNHCR representative was a voting member, decided asylum claims. The RSEC was to notify applicants of its decisions within three months, but many refugees waited for more than three years for them. If the RSEC denied a claim, asylum seekers had thirty days to appeal the decision to the Refugee Appeal Commission (RAC). The RAC had six members, including one from UNHCR. Decisions by the RAC were final. The Government permitted the assistance of counsel, at the applicants' expense, but there was no independent monitoring of the process. Many refugees were unable to register because they were illiterate and unable to fill out the forms or translate their documents into French, and CNAR was unable to accommodate them.
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. The 2002 Constitution recognized a right of asylum and granted foreigners the same rights as nationals, subject to reciprocity of their countries to Congolese. The 1996 Entry and Residence Law provided that "political refugees" were not required to produce travel documents. A 2001 decree creating a Commission on Refugee Eligibility also 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.
In November, some 3,000 refugees entered Bouemba, fleeing inter-tribal fighting in Congo-Kinshasa. A delegation from the Government of Congo-Kinshasa entered to persuade them to return but they were not convinced. More than 1,000 others applied for asylum during the year, including more than 600 from Congo-Kinshasa. Many refugees from Congo-Kinshasa also returned. There were 10,600 voluntary departures, and other countries resettled 110 refugees.
Detention/Access to Courts
Aside from the four arrests mentioned above, the military intelligence service continued to hold three asylum seekers, exiled officers from Congo-Kinshasa, in pretrial detention in military headquarters without charges since it had arrested them in 2004. Reportedly, Congo-Kinshasa had requested their arrest as part of an agreement between the two countries to crack down on each other's opponents, after one of them spoke on national radio about shootings several days earlier in Kinshasa. They were reportedly awaiting extradition, although no effective extradition policy between the two countries existed. Other sources indicated that authorities believed they were spies.
On occasion, police arrested other refugees, claiming not to recognize their government-issued documentation, in order to extort bribes. The authorities resolved the matter upon UNHCR intervention. Authorities arrested about ten refugees and asylum seekers and detained them for short periods, usually for investigation into alleged crimes or irregular documents. There were no detentions for illegal entry or illegal employment. UNHCR was the only independent organization monitoring the detention of refugees and asylum seekers. The Government allowed detained refugees and asylum seekers assistance of counsel but did not provide it.
More than 2,200 refugees received identity cards in 2006. Asylum seekers received six-month renewable attestations of contact allowing their legal stay in the country.
The Eligibility Decree prohibited detention or imprisonment of refugees for illegal entry and obligated the Government to issue free, five-year identity cards to refugees through UNHCR. The Eligibility Decree 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.
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 move 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.
Refugees had access to international travel documents in addition to those for repatriation or resettlement. 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.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Congo-Brazzaville allowed refugees with identity cards to work in all fields.
Although the Constitution reserved to citizens its protection of 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 must have contracts to work. Pursuant to a 1960 collective agreement, they could also hold public sectors jobs in education, medicine, agriculture, and other areas, after a period of training.
Local villagers harassed refugees to prevent them from working in certain trades, such as fishing and trading. Some refugees traveled over the border into Congo-Kinshasa and Central African Republic to trade and farm.
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
Refugees living in UNHCR-assisted rural settlements had access to primary education and public health services but many in Brazzaville were unable to register for assistance because they were illiterate and unable to fill out required forms.
The Government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies aiding refugees and asylum seekers. 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.
The 2004 Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Congo-Brazzaville prepared for international donors did not include refugees.