Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Senegal

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 - Senegal, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 19 February 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.

SEN figures


Senegal hosted some 23,800 refugees and asylum seekers. Over 20,000 were Mauritanians who, between 1989 and 1991, fled ethnic persecution. Thousands of Mauritanians lived in two main settlements, N'dioum and Dodel, and most others lived in some 250 villages and small informal settlements in a 360-mile strip along the Senegal River valley, bordering Mauritania. Since 1989, tens of thousands returned. In November 2007, Senegal and Mauritania signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR for the return of refugees, which began in January 2008.

Senegal also hosted refugees and asylum seekers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other countries. There were no camps for non-Mauritanian refugees.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reported cases of refoulement, but authorities regularly escorted foreigners without documentation, including asylum seekers, across the Malian border. There were no reported cases of physical assault or harassment of refugees or asylum seekers.

Senegal was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), to its 1967 Protocol without reservation, and to the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The 2001 Constitution established that international agreements were of higher legal authority than local laws. A 1968 law, with a 1978 implementing decree and 1989 revisions, established the National Commission of Eligibility (CNE), composed of representatives of various ministries, to grant or revoke refugee status. UNHCR was an observer. It also prohibited forcible return and provided that refugees should enjoy all the rights of the 1951 Convention. In rare cases, the CNE rejected individuals that UNHCR deemed in need of protection and recognized under its own mandate. Asylum seekers applied to the CNE, which gave them receipts. Within two weeks, the CNE and the Ministry of Interior conducted interviews with the applicants. If the CNE approved refugee status, it issued certificates to applicants attesting to their recognition, but the President of the country also had to sign a decree approving each case. This sometimes took one to two years. Rejected applicants could appeal in 15 days if they had new facts to present, but to the same CNE members. Failing that, they could also appeal to the President. The Refugee Law stated that applicants could present their cases with counsel in attendance, but in practice, this rarely occurred.

The Government granted only 15 new asylum requests although over 200 applied. The CNE reportedly rejected asylum claims from Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guinea, saying that these countries were at peace or on the path to peace.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities arrested at least six West and Central Africans for lack of valid papers. In April, authorities detained an Ivorian refugee overnight even though he had an attestation of refugee status. In August, authorities arrested two Liberians for illegal residence, held them for three weeks, and sentenced them to a month in prison. The Liberians had applied for asylum four months earlier, but the CNE had not given them receipts.

Authorities could hold persons in administrative detention for up to three months before deportation. No court reviewed refugees' or asylum seekers' detention. Generally, authorities informed UNHCR of arrests and, when necessary, UNHCR intervened to assure release.

1978 and 1987 decrees obliged the Government to issue registered refugees free certificates of their status and identity cards valid for ten years, renewable. At the beginning of each year, refugees would have to present their cards to the authorities in their area of residence. The CNE, however, had not issued any refugee identity cards since the end of 1999, responding to objections from the Mauritanian Government. UNHCR had stopped issuing them in 2001. As a result, most Mauritanian refugees did not have identity cards, retaining only application receipts, some dating back to 1989. Those who had annually renewable refugee cards had to travel to Dakar and pay fees to renew them, and some complained of police harassment when they tried to travel. The Government did issue 203 temporary attestations but, because the documents did not include photos, authorities occasionally detained their bearers. Many refugees obtained illegal identity cards so they could find employment and move freely.

The CNE gave asylum applicants receipts to give them the right to move freely and to remain in country while deciding on their asylum cases. Asylum seekers sometimes had trouble renewing their attestation documents, which were valid for anywhere from two weeks to three months.

Refugees and asylum seekers with attestation documents were able to claim their rights in court. One Sierra Leonean asylum seeker filed a complaint against two others for an immigration scam and the court convicted them. The Constitution extended to all the principle of equality before the law and a prohibition of arbitrary detention.

UNHCR and UNICEF encouraged Mauritanian parents in refugee settlements to register the births of their children, but many were reluctant to do so, fearing loss of their Mauritanian citizenship.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Refugees were able to choose their place of residence and move relatively freely as long as they had documentation of their status.

To obtain international travel documents, refugees had to apply through the interior ministry with a letter of recommendation from UNHCR, confirm their refugee status, state their reasons for travel, and show a return plane ticket. About 20 received them.

The Constitution reserved to citizens its rights to move about freely, to choose their place of residence, and to leave the country, but the 1978 and 1989 decrees provided that the interior minister would issue international travel documents to refugees if they applied to the prefect of their department of residence.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Asylum seekers could not work, nor could the many recognized refugees without documents.

Authorities did not allow a recognized Rwandan refugee to establish a veterinarian's office in Dakar, after years of effort, because he lacked an identity document. Recognized Ivorian refugees without documentation could not get construction jobs. Recognized refugees without documents also could not get drivers licenses, open bank accounts, or receive postal orders. Many, however, obtained illegal cards.

The Refugee Law granted refugees the same right to work as nationals and the Constitution guaranteed to all the right to work, including the right to form labor unions and strike. The Refugee Law treated refugees seeking to practice professions as foreigners from countries with which Senegal had the most favorable treaty. A 1971 law conditioned foreigners' practice of professions upon authorities authorizing their establishment and certifying that they satisfied all legal requirements.

Refugees could trade and farm pursuant to local arrangements. Although the Constitution reserved to citizens its right to engage in business and to own property, in practice, refugees could own property.

Public Relief and Education

Registered refugees in Dakar received some aid from the Bureau d'Orientation Social but asylum seekers and those without status did not. Refugees in settlements along the border with Mauritania did not receive aid from the Bureau but UNHCR gave some community aid. The agency also aided refugees in urban areas for six months and, after that, reimbursed them for medical fees.

Registered refugees and asylum seekers had the right to the same health services as nationals but those without identity cards did not.

Children of refugees and asylum seekers with birth certificates could attend primary schools along with nationals. UNHCR offered 58 scholarships for professional training programs and 40 for secondary schools.

The Constitution reserved to citizens its rights to health but extended to all children the right to education. The Refugee Law granted refugees the same rights as nationals with regard to public assistance and education.

Senegal allowed UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations access to aid refugees and asylum seekers. The 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors noted refugees' malnutrition, poverty, and vulnerability. It promised programs to reduce social exclusion and specific arrangements "to allow them to take advantage of wealth-generating opportunities," including, with donor assistance, "a special fund to support displaced persons and refugees" and listed the establishment of this special fund as a priority action. Its 2004 and 2005 progress reports, however, mentioned none of these initiatives, and the Government did not include refugees or asylum seekers in any poverty reduction or development programs. The 2006 Paper noted that Senegal would establish special programs to benefit particular groups, including refugees and displaced persons. The report also said Senegal would focus on improving its strategies to manage refugee populations by providing assistance to returnees, building the capacities of the CNE, updating asylum law, and taking the "gender approach into account."

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