Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2017, 15:40 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Côte d'Ivoire

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 - Côte d'Ivoire, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]
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.

CIV figures


Côte d'Ivoire hosted about 26,400 refugees and asylum seekers, of which some 24,200 were Liberians who fled civil war between 1989 and 2003.

Of the roughly 4,900 refugees and asylum seekers living in Abidjan, some 2,600 were Liberians. About 90 percent resided along the border with Liberia in a western and southwestern refugee-hosting zone known as the Refugee Reception Zone, many in some 80 villages and 150 hamlets in the Tabou region.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

While there were no reported cases of refoulement, Liberian refugees in Guiglo complained of insecurity, rape, and extortion by law enforcement personnel and Ivorian civilians. A refugee leader reportedly raped a ten-year-old refugee in Nicla camp. Members of security and defense forces reportedly tried to recruit refugees and asylum seekers to train militias or to fight alongside the regular army.

In March 2008, some 100 to 200 Liberian refugee women and children wishing to resettle to the United States and objecting to worsening security, demonstrated in front of the UN compound in Guiglo. Security forces and police reportedly tried to disperse the crowd by flogging protestors and one refugee reported the use of tear gas by police. Other reports suggested refugees used force against the authorities. At least seven refugees were injured and two were arrested.

Côte d'Ivoire recognized 98 percent of refugees prima facie. During the year, some 700 went through the refugee eligibility process, about 180 of them new applicants. The Government denied nearly 500 and granted refugee status to over 40 people. By year's end, some 1,780 were pending.

UNHCR's voluntary repatriation program for Liberians ended in June with the return of some 4,500 Liberians during the year and some 21,000 since the program began. With new resettlement also closed, UNHCR and the Government began facilitating naturalization for Liberians.

Côte d'Ivoire 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. The 2000 Constitution provided that anyone "persecuted on the basis of his political, religious, or philosophical convictions or ethnic identity" could seek asylum and that international treaties were a superior authority to national laws, but also provided that the President could not ratify any treaty that modified internal law except pursuant to legislation. The country, however, had no national asylum or refugee legal framework, as draft asylum law initiated in 1997 and reviewed in 2004 had still not passed into law.

In 2000, Côte d'Ivoire informally set up the Department of Aid and Assistance to Refugees and Stateless Persons (SAARA) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to help design and implement asylum policy, and a National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which included representatives of several ministries but was without a formal written procedure, until February 2007, when the Government formally established it. UNHCR had voice but no vote on cases. In the absence of national asylum legislation, SAARA and the NEC processed refugee claims through the application of international legal provisions on asylum and Conclusions of UNHCR's Executive Committee.

In February, a decree called for an Appeal Commission composed of the foreign affairs, internal affairs, and justice ministries but the Government did not establish it until October or train its staff until November and it did not review any cases. Instead, members of the NEC who decided cases in the first instance reviewed appeals based on new evidence.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities arrested and detained refugees in Abidjan and confiscated their identification documents. Police and military abused and harassed those they assumed to be non-native, in some cases detaining them, extorting money from them, and removing their documents if they could not pay.

The International Committee of the Red Cross' protection unit and UNHCR monitored detention centers. UNHCR provided counseling in detention centers, and worked with two lawyers' offices to provide refugees with legal counseling and representation.

Liberians who arrived before 2003 received temporary cards attesting to their status, but those who arrived later did not. SAARA automatically issued attestations to about 4,300 recognized refugees and about 900 asylum seeker attestions or A Qui de Droit to asylum applicants. Security forces, however, often did not respect either of these documents. Non-Liberian refugees who received refugee status through the NEC were eligible for refugee identity cards (RICs), which counted as residency permits according to a 2004 law. In December, UNHCR, the Ivorian National Office of Identification, and SAARA announced that Liberians without documentation could obtain RICs. Alternatively, the Liberian Consulate would provide consular cards to Liberians who were prepared to abandon their refugee status in 2008 and accept the status of nationals of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member states. Passport-holding citizens of ECOWAS members had the right to be in Côte d'Ivoire for up to three months but longer stays longer required residence cards. Renewable Temporary Stay documents, costing CFA 2,000 (about $4), allowed foreigners to remain in the country for six-month periods.

The 2000 Constitution extended to all persons its guarantees of equal access to and equality before the law; it also included the presumption of innocence and the prohibition of arbitrary detention and ex post facto prosecution or punishment.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

While the Government generally tolerated freedom of movement and residence of refugees, government security forces and rebels at roadblocks regularly extorted money from nationals as well as foreigners; raped women; verbally abused, beat and harassed refugees as they circulated; and did not honor refugees' documents. Extortion and harassment diminished after a March agreement between the Government and the rebels resulting in fewer checkpoints, at least in the north.

Humanitarian assistance was not limited to refugees living in camps, but many moved to camps in Abidjan because of insecurity in the settlement areas and the closing of the transit center in Tabou.

Refugees could apply to UNHCR or SAARA for international travel documents, but had to justify their travel. Business trips required documentation from the customs services and the Ministry of Trade; students required admissions documents from their institution; and all travelers required confirmed private sponsors providing all necessities, including visas. According to UNHCR, this was "to avoid irregular movements or pressure for resettlement" once they received the documents. Refugees with businesses registered with the Government could also receive them. During the year about 460 refugees received international travel documents.

The 2000 Constitution did not specifically guarantee freedom of movement.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

A 1997 decree governing foreigners' access to work permits made no exception for refugees. It required employers to have advertised the position for two months, with no Ivorian accepting, and applicants to have a contract before entering the country. Foreigners with valid resident permits, including refugees, could apply for work permits. To obtain a work permit, refugees had to apply to the Ministry of Labor, followed by SAARA, which transferred the document to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The employment law prevented refugees and asylum seekers from pursuing specific professions, such as medicine and law. In most cases, employers did not register refugee employees with the social security service. Those with registered status enjoyed equal protection of the labor laws.

The 2000 Constitution extended the rights to property; to work, including in the public sector; and the right to organize and strike to all persons, but reserved to citizens the right to run businesses. In practice, refugees could obtain licenses or permits to run businesses only if in partnership with nationals.

The Government failed to implement fully amendments to the 1998 law that restricted land ownership to nationals, which made it difficult for refugees in rural area in the west of the country to farm.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees were eligible for public relief on par with nationals.

Although the 2000 Constitution reserved its rights to health and education to citizens, in practice, the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene operated clinics for children, infants, and prenatal services for both nationals and foreigners, including refugees, free or at low cost. Refugees had access to four medical clinics, and by presenting their identification they paid one fifth of the cost for consultations and medications but had to pay the full costs of chronic illnesses. Refugees from Zaaglo settlement in Guiglo, formerly known as Peace Town, claimed authorities had closed the health center to compel them to accept new identity cards.

A UNHCR regional program in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Sierra Leone provided literacy and vocational training, and HIV/AIDS awareness programs to adolescents. Non-Liberian refugees and asylum seekers had access to primary and secondary school, but annual fees were CFA 90,000 (about $205). UNHCR offered vocational training to refugees in Tabou.

In January, UNHCR closed Bonoumin transit center in Abidjan forcing more than 150 people to seek shelter elsewhere. In June, UNHCR transferred the Peace Town Liberian settlement in the western area of Guiglo to the Government. Also in June, UNHCR transferred control of Nicla refugee camp, with a population of roughly 4,300 refugees, to the Government. There were plans to integrate Nicla into an Ivorian village named Zaaglo, as a part of the Government and UNHCR's plans to promote long-term settlement of refugees. Many asylum seekers with applications rejected by the NEC sought shelter in churches and mosques.

The Government gave humanitarian organizations access to refugees including areas it previously deemed sensitive.

The African Union Commission donated $100,000 to UNHCR for its operations in the country. The Government did not include refugees in its 2002 Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for international donors, except to note security concerns "in light of the massive presence of refugees for many years" and local demands for roads to border posts.

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