World Refugee Survey 2008 - Gabon
|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 - Gabon, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485f50d3ad.html [accessed 27 November 2014]|
Gabon hosted 8,500 refugees and 4,200 asylum seekers in 2007 from 25 different countries. Most refugees in Gabon fled from the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) during that country's civil wars of the 1990s. The rest came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Chad, Angola, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo, among others.
During the year, between 100 and 150 refugees and asylum seekers repatriated voluntarily, mostly to Congo-Kinshasa, but also to Chad, Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, and Sudan.
There were no reports of refoulement or injury to refugees or asylum seekers, although the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did acknowledge the need to address issues of sexual violence against female refugees.
Gabon's 1998 Refugee Law gave the National Commission for Refugees (CNR) responsibility for protecting refugees and determining refugee status. The law also created a Subcommission on Eligibility and an Office of Appeals. The law banned the deportation or detention of refugees or asylum seekers as long as they presented themselves to border authorities within 48 hours of arrival, with exceptions for national security or protection of the public order. Asylum seekers had to submit requests for asylum to CNR within ten days of entering the country. UNHCR held an observational seat on CNR's Subcommission on Eligibility, which examined asylum requests. If the Subcommission denied a request, applicants could submit an appeal within 15 days, and had an additional two opportunities for appeal if they were able to obtain new evidence. Applicants could employ counsel, but none did so because of the cost and a lack of pro bono options. UNHCR estimated that by year's end there was a backlog of nearly 4,300 refugee status applications at CNR, in part due to Gabon's limited resources.
Gabon 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.
Detention/Access to Courts
Refugees reported widespread detention and harassment by security forces during the year as police conducted operations to round up illegal immigrants. Unwarranted detention was usually the result of ignorance of national refugee law, and once informed, either UNHCR or CNR typically intervened to arrange the release of those detained. Authorities detained at least nine refugees and asylum seekers for misdemeanors or criminal offenses.
In May, the Government launched a new refugee identification system. The Government issued identity cards to those with refugee status, beginning in the capital, Libreville. UNHCR helped the Government to distribute the cards in the outlying provinces but stressed the need to publicize the significance of the cards to facilitate community acceptance. The cards guaranteed international judicial and administrative protection to refugees including the right to work, to move about freely, access to medical care, and education. While the new refugee cards were supposed to reduce harassment, detention, and extortion by Gabonese security forces, refugees continued to complain of such abuse.
The Government issued to asylum seekers documents certifying their asylum seeking status, thereby guaranteeing them the same rights as refugees with the exception of the right to work.
Generally, refugees could not afford the services of attorneys and pro bono options did not exist. While UNHCR did not provide direct legal assistance to detained refugees or asylum seekers, it did monitor their treatment and discussed cases directly with prosecutors and tribunal presidents to ensure equitable treatment under the law.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
There were no refugee camps in Gabon. Approximately 80 percent of refugees and asylum seekers lived in urban areas. Most refugees were concentrated in the southeastern province of Haut-Ogooué and in the Estuaire province, which included the capital, Libreville. They also resided in six other provinces including Ogoué Lolo, Nyanga, and Ngounié.
Article 15 of Decree 646 guaranteed refugees freedom of movement and residence. The refugee identity card was the equivalent of a residence permit issued to other foreigners, allowing refugees to live and move where they chose.
To obtain an international travel document (TVC), refugees had to demonstrate their need to travel with a work contract, enrollment in an educational institution, notarized proof of housing, or a document of admission into a health clinic, as well as a plane ticket. They then submitted an application to the UNHCR Regional Representative, including two passport photos and a copy of their refugee identity card. If UNHCR approved the application, CNR examined the case and, in conjunction with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Director General of Documentation and Immigration (DGDI), issued a TVC. Some 15 requested and obtained these documents in 2007.
It was easier to request a laissez-passer document to travel within the sub-region, which included Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, and Benin. Applicants had to submit an application to DGDI with two passport photos and their refugee certificates.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Article 11 of the Refugee Status Law enacted in 1998 gave refugees the same rights as foreigners in terms of employment. This meant that a refugee had to obtain a work permit from the Ministry of Labor, and that employers had to confirm that no Gabonese could fill the position. The recent introduction of refugee identity cards in May was supposed to have made it easier for refugees to find work, but it was not clear that they had. The high unemployment rate in Gabon remained a severe constraint on refugees' ability to find work.
Most refugees who found employment worked as teachers, mechanics, taxi drivers, domestic workers, farmers, market vendors, or fishermen. UNHCR reported that some young female refugees had resorted to prostitution to support themselves. When refugees worked formally, they contributed to the social security fund and could collect retirement or disability pensions when eligible.
Asylum seekers did not have the right to work officially in Gabon but many worked informally.
Refugees enjoyed the same rights as foreigners to engage in business activities, obtain permits and licenses, and to own movable property, but as was the case for Gabonese citizens, there was no private ownership of arable land.
Public Relief and Education
The Government did not impose any restrictions on aid agencies, but only the most destitute refugees received humanitarian aid. UNHCR worked with nongovernmental organizations to provide medical services to the neediest refugees including those with HIV/AIDS. Refugees did not have access to the same amount of public assistance as Gabonese nationals, but a new ordinance enacted in January included them as beneficiaries of health insurance and social security allocations once the Government accepted the implementing decrees for the new law. By year's end, however, the Government still had not accepted the decrees.
The refugee law provided refugees with the same access to public education and universities as nationals. In practice, refugee children received primary education for the same fees as paid by nationals.
Medical services were generally expensive for nationals and foreigners alike, and refugees paid the same fees as other foreigners.
Refugees benefited from UNHCR programs focusing on local integration, including professional skills training, micro-credit programs, and the support of agricultural collectives in local communities. Gabon's most recent Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper prepared for international donors included refugees for the first time.