U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Benin



Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement from Benin in 2005. Asylum seekers entered the territory easily due to the lack of visa restrictions for nationals of members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the reciprocal visa regime between Benin and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). Following violence associated with contested elections in Togo that killed some 400 to 500 in April, more than 27,000 Togolese refugees entered Benin, including more than 200 unaccompanied minors. Refugees were still arriving at a rate of 200 per week in late September.

Even though national legislation did not provide for group determinations, the Government accorded Togolese refugees prima facie refugee status based on the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The presidential 1975 Ordonnance on refugees and parliament's 1984 implementing decree created the Commission Nationale Chargée des Réfugiés (CNCR), consisting of an Eligibility Committee and an Assistance Committee to determine refugee status and its revocation. Upon invitation, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could attend CNCR's meetings as observers and consultants. Although asylum seekers could register at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and CNCR was officially responsible for registration, almost all registered with UNHCR. After UNHCR conducted interviews and research, they presented the cases to the Eligibility Committee. Since 2004, asylum seekers have not had the right to legal counsel before the Eligibility Committee. There was a right of appeal, but it was before the same body that had rendered the denial. Failed asylum seekers from ECOWAS countries, however, were eligible for residence permits.

In August, according to the Togolese Government, Benin's Minister of Communications and Promotion of New Technologies Frédéric Dohou threatened to repatriate the Togolese, stating, "there is no persecution in their country." Benin, however, continued to resist repeated calls by the Togolese government to repatriate the refugees.

UNHCR lacked the resources to monitor the country and only knew of security issues when refugees informed them. In January, a Beninese reportedly raped a 14-year-old refugee, but UNHCR only learned of it two months later.

In February 2006, refugees at the camp just outside Agame took some ten UNHCR staff hostage, including the regional representative, and then released them without harm about six hours later. Their goal had been to speed up the completion of the paperwork necessary to allow for their resettlement to the United States or Europe. Immediately after the release, however, conflict between locals and refugees burned 9 Beninese homes and 92 tents in the refugee camp. The refugees, fearing reprisals, then occupied a school building about four miles away. Caritas Benin and Caritas Togo condemned the "completely unacceptable behavior" of the refugees. By April, about 5,000 of the original 9,000 Togolese refugees had returned to the camp.

Detention/Access to Courts

Between 2003 and 2004, authorities detained 11 Togolese refugees who were former soldiers for 11 months. Authorities regularly detained suspects for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without trial, but did not appear to target refugees. UNHCR provided attestations to all Togolese refugees who registered outside the camps. The February 2006 conflict between refugees and locals burned many refugees' documents.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

After the Togolese influx, the Government and UNHCR established two new camps in Come and Agame to supplement the preexisting one in Kpomasse. In spite of this, at least 14,500 – the majority of the Togolese refugees – lived with friends, family, or on their own. The Government allowed refugees to move freely in the country. In order to obtain international travel documents refugees had to submit UNHCR requests to the Prevention and Civil Defence Directorate (DPPC), copies of their refugee card, four passport pictures, two completed information forms from the DPPC, and all documents supporting their interest to travel. In practice, however, many refugees were able to travel in the region without official travel documents.

Long-staying refugees from Chad, Congo-Kinshasa, Togo, Congo-Brazzaville, and Rwanda had settled mainly in the cities, but 700 were living in the Kpomasse refugee camp outside of Cotonou.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The 1975 Ordonnance entitled refugees to national treatment with respect to the right to wage labor in the private sector. The Government tolerated most refugees' economic activities, although reportedly not all employers were aware of this. In the practice of professions, the 1975 Ordonnance restricted refugees to the most liberal treatment Benin afforded any other foreigners with respect to any particular profession, but the authorities did not enforce this. The Government generally restricted civil service jobs to nationals, but could fill them with qualified refugees, if necessary – as in the public health institutions and schools.

Refugees cultivated land with local authorization and dominated the produce markets along the coast with superior products. Their enterprises employed other refugees and previously unemployed Beninese. Some refugees, however, reportedly did not seek work because they thought it would hurt their chances for resettlement. Few refugees participated in the Songhaï Centre's agricultural initiative at Kpomasse, apparently for the same reason.

Public Relief and Education

There was malnutrition among the Togolese refugees and the World Food Programme warned in November that some 65,000 Togolese refugees could run out of food by the end of the year. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that conditions in the camps were "dire." Since September, the UNFPA helped the Government establish health posts and psychological counseling centers for the refugees.

The 1975 Ordonnance granted refugees the same rights as nationals to education and scholarships and the Government allowed Togolese refugee children to enroll in local schools. Refugees could enroll in higher education on the same terms as nationals. Different aid agencies, together with the Benin authorities, ensured that around 2,100 school-age refugee children could finish their school year. The 1975 Ordonnance also allowed refugees health services on par with nationals.

Benin cooperated with UNHCR, as well as other international relief organizations but did not include refugees in its poverty reduction strategy, which focused on rural areas where refugees did not live. UNHCR and international relief agencies aided both refugees and local residents in refugee hosting areas.


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