Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Congo-Kinshasa

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-Kinshasa, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

COD figures


At year's end, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) hosted around 177,500 refugees and asylum seekers mostly from Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, and the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville).

Some 112,700 Angolan refugees remained, having fled the nearly three-decade long civil war which ended in February 2002. In 2007, some 4,700 repatriated, while the UNHCR and the Angolan Government officially concluded their five-year repatriation program in March. Most Angolan refugees lived among Congolese villagers.

Most of the 29,800 Rwandan refugees arrived during and after the 1994 civil war, many of them ethnic Hutus. Roughly 17,600 Burundians also remained and arrived in waves following inter-ethnic violence in 1972 and in the mid-1990's. There were also about 13,900 Ugandan refugees, many of whom fled the two-decade long conflict between the Ugandan Government and the Lord's Resistance Army.

In June, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) completed its repatriation program for Sudanese refugees after the return of 8,000 refugees since June 2006. Another 2,000 Sudanese refugees repatriated without UNHCR's help and some 2,500 Sudanese refugees remained.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

In November, Congolese authorities reportedly arrested four refugees from the Cabinda ethnic group in Seke-Zola refugee camp and handed them over to the Angolan Government. They were reportedly the third group of Cabindan separatists arrested by Congolese authorities in 2007. Nationals pressured refugees and asylum seekers from countries with which Congo-Kinshasa had been in conflict to return to their countries of origin.

Congo-Kinshasa 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 (African Refugee Convention) without reservation. The 2002 Refugee Law (2002 Law) applied the persecution-based refugee definition of the 1951 Convention and the more general one of the African Refugee Convention, prohibiting refoulement under either. The Law created a National Commission for Refugees (CNR) in the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to decide asylum cases, with a UNHCR representative consulting in its deliberations. It required asylum seekers to present themselves to local authorities, the Permanent Secretary of the CNR, or UNHCR within 30 days of entry into the country. The 2002 Law also provided that the Permanent Secretary prepare the case after issuing an attestation to the asylum seeker, then transmit the case to the Eligibility Commission, which had to intervene within six months. However, in practice, the CNR did not implement the refugee status determination (RSD) procedures prescribed by the 2002 Law, and the Permanent Secretary of the CNR did not transmit any cases to the Eligibility Commission. UNHCR was in effect the only body that conducted RSDs. There was no fixed date for the transfer of RSD responsibilities to the CNR.

The 2002 Law required the CNR to give rejected applicants written decisions with sufficient information upon which to appeal. If rejected, applicants had 90 days to submit an appeal to the Appeals Commission in the MOI, also with a UNHCR representative consulting in its deliberations. The Law prohibited any member of the CNR from deliberating on the Appeals Commission and required appellants to appear before the Commission in person. The Law permitted access to interpreters, and to counsel at the applicant's expense, as well as allowing asylum seekers to remain in the country until a final decision. Applicants could also appeal decisions of the Appeals Commission in court.

The 2006 Constitution recognized the right of asylum, stated that the Government should accord it to persons fearing persecution because of "their opinion, their belief, their racial, tribal, ethnic, or linguistic group membership, or their action in favor of democracy and in defense of human rights and the rights of peoples," and forbade refoulement. It also declared treaties to have higher legal authority than local statutes. The Constitution explicitly provided for the protection of all foreigners legally in the country and granted them the same nonpolitical rights and liberties as nationals, subject to the reciprocity of their governments toward its nationals. The Constitution also forbade any individual or group to use the territory as a base for terrorism or subversion against any government.

Detention/Access to Courts

Congo-Kinshasa detained 30 refugees and asylum seekers for lack of documentation, alleged membership in armed groups, espionage, rape, and defamation. Military intelligence agents reportedly detained Rwandan and Brazzaville Congolese refugees in military prisons, often because of their nationality. Conditions in prisons were unsanitary and overcrowded, and security forces tortured detainees. After UNHCR intervention, the Government reportedly released a Rwandan national whom authorities had detained four times in 2007 and tortured. The 2002 Law provided refugees access to courts and tribunals under the same conditions as nationals, but no refugees or asylum seekers contested their detention before a court in 2007.

The 2002 Law mandated that the MOI, through UNHCR, issue free refugee identity cards, equivalent to residence cards for immigrants that were valid for two years and renewable. In practice, UNHCR issued refugee attestations rather than cards, with the photographs of each adult refugee. The photos of minor children were included on the same document as that of either parent. At year's end, there were at least 150 asylum applications pending. Only eight asylum seekers received refugee attestations in 2007. Police forces recognized the validity of the documents. Reportedly, two-thirds of the Rwandan population in Kinshasa held only asylum seeker attestations, valid for 30 days. Many unaccompanied refugee children who arrived from Rwanda in 1996 did not have documentation attesting to their refugee or asylum status. Consequently, some of them worked as domestic laborers or as slaves in the equatorial rainforest in the north.

The Refugee Law also entitled refugees and their family members to birth, death, and marriage certificates on par with nationals. The Constitution reserved to nationals its guarantees of equality before the law and equal protection of the law, but not its due process protections in criminal matters, and the Refugee Law granted refugees the same access to courts as nationals.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

There were no refugee camps in Congo-Kinshasa.

The 2002 Law granted Convention refugees the same freedom of movement as nationals enjoyed. The Constitution extended to all the rights of freedom of movement and choice of residence. In zones of continuing conflict and instability, refugees had to obtain a one-time travel authorization from local authorities, who often charged high prices and demanded bribes.

The Refugee Law required the Government to issue free, renewable international travel documents to refugees who asked for them. Applicants had to demonstrate specific reasons for travel, such as resettlement offers, need for medical evacuation, enrollment plans at an educational institution, or evidence of imminent plans for travel, such as airplane tickets. The authorities issued no travel documents to refugees in 2007.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees could work legally in the country without permits. The 2002 Law granted recognized refugees the same right to professional employment as nationals, but a 1986 decree reserved certain professions for nationals. In urban and rural regions, refugees worked unofficially in jobs such as farming, trading, tailoring, and mechanical repair, and did not require special authorization. The country's 50,000 street children included refugees, who engaged in petty crime, begging, and prostitution. Police often abused and detained street children and there were reports of collusion in which refugee children bribed officers or had to hand over a portion of the goods they had stolen in order to avoid arrest.

Refugees could own property for farming, operate businesses, and own bank accounts, although there were complaints of petty extortion by officials. The Constitution expressly extended to foreigners its protection of investment and private enterprise, and did not reserve to citizens its protection of private property. The Constitution reserved to nationals the right to work. It recognized the right to organize and to strike generally, but provided only for citizens the right to form and join unions.

Public Relief and Education

Refugee children had access to primary education on par with nationals, but many could not afford to pay school tuition, and suffered harassment from peers and teachers for their identity as foreigners. Refugees continued to receive medical care, while asylum seekers received it only in rare cases as they were not entitled to it. The Government granted UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations access to refugees and asylum seekers.

The 2002 Law granted refugees the right to social assistance, health services, and education on par with nationals, charging the CNR with supporting their needs in housing, food, health, and education, according to its means and with the help of national and international organizations. A 2003 decree mandated that the Government, according to its means, meet all refugee needs, including food, lodging, health, and education. The Constitution did not restrict to citizens its rights to food security, health, potable water, decent housing, and electricity.

Congo-Kinshasa included refugees in the 2006 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for international donors, along with displaced people, women and children, and the elderly on its list of target groups for priority actions. The report also said refugees caused insecurity and strain on resources.

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