Gabon hosted nearly 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002, including some 15,000 from Congo-Brazzaville, 2,000 from Chad, and 3,000 from various other countries.
Refugees from Congo-Brazzaville
Refugees fled to Gabon in 1999 to escape civil war in Congo-Brazzaville.
Most refugees remained cautious about returning home to Congo-Brazzaville because of simmering tensions and occasional violence. Only a few hundred refugees voluntarily repatriated from Gabon during the year – far short of the 6,000 repatriations expected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
About 90 percent of the Congolese refugee population lived in three southern provinces along Gabon's border with Congo-Brazzaville, primarily in urban areas. Two-fifths of the refugees were younger than age 18, according to UNHCR statistics.
A majority of refugees received partial assistance, including food, special rations for malnourished children, tools and seeds for farming, and education benefits. Funding constraints and logistical problems prevented the World Food Program from distributing food to refugees during the first half of the year.
About 1,600 refugee children attended government schools with stipends from UNHCR to help pay for fees, books, and uniforms. UNHCR provided funding to construct a dozen new classrooms at schools with large refugee enrollments.
UNHCR also offered financial assistance to refugees requiring health care, and conducted an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign that distributed free condoms to the refugee population.
Gabon is a party to the UN Refugee Convention.
A government process to review asylum claims began to take shape in 2001 and slowly progressed during 2002. The government's newly formed National Commission for Refugees adjudicated about 250 asylum claims during 2002 and approved about 10 percent of them.
The government's slow procedure for issuing identity papers and travel documents hampered some urban refugees' freedom of movement and ability to find employment.