U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Niger



Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement in 2006.

In October, Niger announced that it would return the Mahamid Arabs living in the Diffa region of eastern Niger to Chad. This population numbered about 15,000, although some reports estimated as many as 150,000. The Government soon reduced the number affected by the order to 3,300, who it alleged had false identity documents, and ultimately called off the deportation four days after announcing it. While the Government was rounding up Mahamid Arabs in preparation for the deportation, two girls died, reportedly after fleeing Government forces, and three women suffered miscarriages.

The Mahamid Arabs had arrived in eastern Niger in several waves from Chad, fleeing drought in the early 1970s and armed conflict in the 1980s. Niger never granted them refugee status, and most did not hold Nigerien citizenship. Some had Nigerien identity papers, but a local government official said these were forgeries and acknowledged no record of a Mahamid Arab applying for citizenship. Tensions between the Mahamid Arabs and the local population over wells and other natural resources, as well as the Mahamid Arabs' hidden stocks of weapons, prompted the deportation order.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did not have an office in Niger, but monitored the country from its regional office in Benin.

Niger was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, all without reservations. Niger's 1997 Refugee Law created the Commission Nationale d'Eligibilité au Statut des Réfugiés (CNE) to hear asylum claims. The CNE's process was lengthy; it met only once during 2006 to hear 10 cases, accepting four and rejecting six. Asylum applicants had three interviews: a preliminary interview, an interview with CNE members, and an interview with the police to assess the applicant's morality. Police from the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire also investigated all asylum seekers, often delaying cases for months and frightening applicants. The CNE President heard appeals of rejected asylum claims. In March, Niger established the Comité de Recours Gracieux to hear appeals, but it was not active.

The 1999 Constitution guaranteed equality before the law to all, "without distinction of gender or social, racial, ethnic, or religious origin." The 1997 Refugee Law granted refugees all the same rights as nationals regarding physical security, freedom of movement, health services, education, and identity documents.

Detention/Access to Courts

During the aborted expulsion of the Mahamid Arabs, Niger detained nearly 30 women and children for 48 hours. There were no other reports of Niger detaining refugees or asylum seekers.

The Government issued certificates to asylum seekers valid for three months upon receiving their claims. These documents were renewable if necessary. Once Niger recognized refugees, it issued renewable identity cards attesting to their legal status in the country. Niger issued 41 asylum seeker certificates and 17 refugee identity cards during 2006.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

There were no camps in Niger and refugees were free to move within the country and could choose their places of residence. The 1999 Constitution said Niger "shall recognise and guarantee freedom of movement" without limiting the right to citizens.

Niger issued international travel documents to refugees 18 years old or older who requested them in writing and provided documentation of the reason for travel, such as proof of registration at a foreign school or university, invitation to a conference, or proof of a medical appointment abroad. During 2006, Niger issued five such permits.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees had most of the rights of nationals to work, but Niger did not permit refugees to work in its civil service. The CNE provided refugees with letters of introduction to help them find employment. The 1999 Constitution only recognized the right of citizens to work.

Part of the tension that led to the threatened deportation of the Mahamid Arabs was the strain their livestock put on the local environment. UNHCR reported that they owned at least 100,000 camels, amongst other livestock.

Public Relief and Education

There were no restrictions on aid to refugees, and agencies including Caritas and the Red Cross helped them.

Refugees had access to primary education and health services on par with nationals. During 2006, UNHCR partners assisted 45 primary school students, 38 secondary school students, and 7 students of colleges or technical schools with tuition expenses – including both recognized and prima facie refugees.

The Government granted UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies access to aid refugees, but Niger did not include refugees in the 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors or in its June 2006 annual progress report.


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