U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire


Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement during 2006. Even rejected asylum seekers could remain in the country and regularize their status.

The Government, however, did not always protect them. Assailants killed one Angolan refugee in the countryside. Authorities beat refugees at checkpoints although less frequently than the year before. They especially targeted refugees carrying UN documentation due to the Government's hostility to the international body. Nongovernmental "self-defense" committees also beat non-citizen Africans, and assailants reportedly raped some refugees. Restrictive property laws also caused xenophobic strife.

Although an estimated 37,000 to 38,000 Liberian refugees were registered, the Government claimed that there could be as many as 50,000 residing in Côte d'Ivoire. There were also an estimated 1,700 refugees from other countries. The Government recognized most Liberians as refugees on a prima facie basis as late as 2003 but not since the 2004 tripartite agreement between Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to promote repatriation. More than 200 persons applied for asylum; of these, about 30 cases were processed and 90 cases required supplementary information.

Côte d'Ivoire was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, without reservations, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The 2000 Constitution provided that anyone "persecuted on the basis of his political, religious, or philosophical convictions or ethnic identity" could seek asylum and that international treaties were a superior authority to national laws, but also provided that the President could not ratify any treaty that modified internal law except pursuant to legislation. The country, however, had no asylum or refugee law.

In 2000, Côte d'Ivoire informally set up the Service of Assistance and Aid to Refugees and Stateless Persons (SAARA) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to help design and implement asylum policy, and a National Eligibility Commission (NEC), including representatives of several ministries, without written procedure. Asylum seekers had to register and apply in writing to SAARA and have a preliminary interview. SAARA worked with UNHCR which had independent consultative voice in the process. The decision process was slow, as was the delivery and renewal of attestations. At the beginning of the year, more than a thousand applications had been pending since 1999, and it did not appear likely that the authorities would be able to process the backlog within the next three years. The quality of the interview and notes was also poor and analytically weak. There was no appeal process although the members of the NEC who decided cases in the first instance could review claims based on new evidence. In February 2007, the Government issued a decree to establish an Appeal Commission.

Detention/Access to Courts

Government troops, rebels, and pro-government militias arbitrarily detained refugees, asylum seekers, and other foreigners at checkpoints throughout the year. Supporters of the president especially targeted those holding UN documentation. Authorities arrested three Liberian refugees for falsifying refugee documents. UNHCR had access to detention centers, as did SAARA, which reported on conditions to UNHCR.

SAARA issued attestations of refugee status in collaboration with UNHCR. UNHCR issued about 3,000 attestations to refugees and asylum seekers, including to all new asylum seekers. Recognized refugees received attestations upon request. According to a 2004 law, refugee identity cards counted as residency permits. Liberians who arrived in Côte d'Ivoire before 2003 held temporary refugee cards attesting to their prima facie status, but those who arrived after 2003 did not. Authorities did not respect and, in fact, frequently destroyed refugees' documents, whether UNHCR or government-issued, less often than in the past but with impunity. Authorities reportedly confiscated the attestations of 15 refugees in Abidjan.

Refugees and asylum seekers had access to courts on par with nationals. UNHCR contracted two law offices to counsel and represent refugees in court.

The Constitution extended to all persons its guarantees of equal access to and equality before the law and presumption of innocence and its prohibition of arbitrary detention and ex post facto prosecution or punishment.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Security forces often did not recognize refugees' documents and harassed them in their movements. Police prevented foreigners from traveling between the north and the south. According to the U.S. State Department, "security forces, local civilian 'self-defense' committees, and water, forestry, and customs officials frequently erected and operated roadblocks on major roads ... and regularly extorted ... foreigners, refugees, and others." The Constitution did not guarantee freedom of movement to anyone.

Liberian refugees generally resided along the border with Liberia in a 40-mile (60-km) refugee-hosting zone known as Zone d'Accueil des Réfugiés (ZAR). In June, UNHCR closed one of the two major refugee transit camps located on the western border, and the refugees successfully relocated into nearby villages within the month.

Refugees could apply to UNHCR or SAARA for international travel documents for study or business but required private sponsors providing all necessities, including visas and confirmation, to avoid irregular movements or pressure for resettlement once they received the documents. Refugees with businesses registered with the Government could also receive them. Five refugees received them in 2006.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

It was difficult for refugees to work legally in Côte d'Ivoire although the Government informally tolerated it. A 1997 decree governing foreigners' access to work permits made no exception for refugees. It required employers to have advertised the position for two months, with no Ivorian accepting, and applicants to have a contract before entering the country. To obtain a work permit, refugees had to apply to the Ministry of Labor, then to SAARA, which transferred the document to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Employment Law prevented refugees and asylum seekers from pursuing specific professions, such as medicine and law. In most cases, employers did not register refugee employees with the social security service. Those with registered status enjoyed equal protection of the labor laws.

The 2000 Constitution extended the rights to property, to work, including in the public sector, and the right to organize and strike to all persons but reserved to citizens the right to run businesses. There were no restrictions on refugee businesses, but the Government failed to implement liberalizing amendments to the 1998 law restricting land ownership to nationals, preventing refugees from owning and inheriting land.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees were not eligible for public relief on par with nationals. The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene operated clinics for children, and infants and prenatal services for both nationals and foreigners, including refugees, free or at low cost. Many doctors and nurses, however, left rebel-held zones after 2002. In January, in the western town of Guiglo in the ZAR, militias targeted UNHCR, World Food Programme, and nongovernmental organization facilities for looting and destruction. This prompted UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to evacuate the region until mid-year, which left some 10,000 refugees without aid.

The Government discontinued the scholarship policy that applied to all students regardless of citizenship or status.

The 2000 Constitution reserved its rights to health and education to citizens.

The Government did not impede humanitarian access to refugees and cooperated with UNHCR. It did not, however, include refugees in the 2002 Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors, except to note security concerns "in light of the massive presence of refugees for many years" and local demands for roads to border posts. It also restricted human rights monitoring organizations' access to areas it deemed sensitive. In January 2007, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire until June 2007 with special attention to the treatment of Liberian refugees along the Liberian-Ivorian border.


This 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.