There were no reports of refoulement in 2006. Some 300 asylum seekers from Côte d'Ivoire were not permitted to apply for refugee status in Monrovia because they had entered over land and not applied at the county where they arrived. By year's end and after a violent demonstration and the detention of 25 of them, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agreed to hear their claims.
Liberia 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 reservation. Liberia's 1993 Refugee Act incorporated the definitions of a refugee from both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the broader 1969 African Refugee Convention and allowed for group classification. It offered refugees all the rights in those conventions. It required applicants to submit claims through UNHCR and established an Asylum Committee to decide them. UNHCR received applications and conducted interviews on the Committee's behalf, but the Government had deactivated the Asylum Committee in 2003 due to civil war. Under the Act, applicants had the right to remain in the country for at least 90 days after a refusal in order to pursue an appeal or admission to another country.
Detention/Access to Courts
Liberia did not detain refugees for illegal entry.
In December, however, Liberian National Police and Nepalese troops of the UN Mission in Liberia arrested 25 Ivorian refugees who were demonstrating at UNHCR headquarters in Monrovia, protesting lack of health services and education for refugees outside of camps and for refugee status for some 300 undocumented asylum seekers in Monrovia. The demonstration was reportedly peaceful until the authorities charged with whips and batons. Some demonstrators reportedly threw stones. Several refugees, mainly women, required hospitalization. The Government said the protest was illegal because the demonstrators did not have the Ministry of Justice's permission to demonstrate. The refugees claimed they had requested permission to demonstrate from UNHCR and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and interpreted their lack of response as consent. Authorities released them after two days but several refugees reported mistreatment in detention.
UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to detention centers. The 1983 Constitution's equal protection and due process provisions applied to all persons, including refugees.
As provided for in the 1993 Refugee Act, the Government issued identity cards and letters of attestation to refugees and their family members aged seven and up. Asylum seekers received certificates with their photographs, valid for three months after they submitted their application. Authorities generally respected the cards and certificates, though not all refugees and asylum seekers received them. Of the 12,600 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, 7,400 obtained identity cards.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Refugees and asylum seekers could move freely throughout Liberia without harassment but only camp residents received aid. Most Sierra Leonean refugees lived in three camps near Monrovia. While many Ivorians lived in Saclepea camp, the only recognized camp for Ivorian refugees, many more integrated into local communities along the eastern border.
The 1983 Constitution guaranteed freedom of movement and choice of residence to "every person ... subject however to the safeguarding of public security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others." The Refugee Act allowed the Government to designate places for refugees, asylum applicants, and their families to live and allowed regulations to enforce such designations but also provided "this shall, however, not preclude the right of any refugee to live in any place of his choice."
Three refugees applied for international travel documents to UNHCR, which requested them from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The refugees received them but with restrictions based on needs assessed by UNHCR Protection and Community Service officers. One refugee received a travel document with a right of reentry for a job requiring international travel. Another received one to repatriate to Sudan without right of reentry, and UNHCR collected the travel document upon arrival in Sudan. The Constitution reserved the right of exit from and reentry to Liberia to citizens.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Conflicting legislation made it virtually impossible for refugees to work legally in Liberia. Four applied for permits in 2006 and their status remained pending at year's end. Some refugees engaged in small trading or manual labor in the informal market but the legal restrictions effectively barred refugees from practicing professions.
The 1983 Constitution reserved the rights of equal employment opportunity and treatment at work to citizens. The Refugee Act granted refugees the same right to work as other non-citizens and exempted them from measures to protect the national labor force. It also allowed regulations to require employers to favor them over other non-nationals in hiring. The Labor Law, however, required permits for specific jobs and specified that the Ministry of Labor would issue only them if no qualified Liberians were available and the foreigner had met residence requirements. It also allowed the Ministry to withhold permits from nationals of any country that did not accord reciprocal rights to Liberians.
The Constitution offered the right to own property and its protection to all persons but provided that "only Liberian citizens shall have the right to own real property" and that only the Government could own mineral rights under ground or water.
Public Relief and Education
Liberia provided public relief to refugees on par with nationals. UNHCR provided material assistance only to refugees in Saclepea camp. In December, a strike by refugees in Saclepea for better services blocked access to the camp and closed Jesuit Refugee Service's vocational training school. Only one health clinic remained open. In response to refugees demonstrating for aid in Monrovia, UNHCR offered to transport them to Saclepea. Community empowerment and reintegration projects in Nimba and other parts of the southeast for Liberian returnees also benefited refugees.
The Government's recent policy of free and compulsory primary education applied to all children without discrimination and refugee children outside of camps attended schools along with Liberian children. Camp-based refugee children received free primary education.
Humanitarian aid groups generally had free access to refugees and asylum seekers, but the Government did not include refugees in the interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors covering mid-2006 to mid-2008.
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