There were no reports of refoulement from Benin in 2006.
In February, Togolese refugees at Agame camp outside Lokossa took some 10 staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hostage, including the regional representative, in order to speed up paperwork for resettlement to third countries. They released them without harm about six hours later. After the release, fighting broke out. Refugees threw stones and villagers opened fire on refugees. The fighting injured at least 29, mostly refugees, but the refugees seriously injured one villager. Villagers burned 92 tents in the camp, and refugees burned nine Beninese homes. Fearing reprisals, thousands of refugees fled the camp and took shelter in a police office and an elementary school about four miles (seven km) away. Benin stationed police in the camp after the riot. Caritas Benin and Caritas Togo condemned refugees' behavior in the incident as "completely unacceptable."
Benin received about 580 applications for asylum and granted about 170. It rejected about 330 and about 80 remained open at year's end. A new appeals committee heard 38 cases in 2006 and ruled in favor of the applicant in 3 of them. Authorities did not deport failed applicants, but directed them to the immigration department to regularize their status. The Eligibility Committee denied asylum to two people from the Central African Republic (CAR) whose government requested their arrest. However, they appealed the decision with legal assistance.
The Government accorded Togolese refugees prima facie refugee status based on the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). A 1975 Ordonnance on refugees and a 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, UNHCR could attend CNCR meetings as observers and consultants.
Asylum seekers could register either at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation or UNHCR. CNCR was officially responsible for registration. After conducting interviews and research, UNHCR presented the cases to the Eligibility Committee, prioritizing women, the elderly, and children. Applicants did not have the right to legal counsel before the Eligibility Committee. In July, Benin set up a separate appeals committee for asylum claims. Previously, the same committee that heard first claims heard appeals.
Benin was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, without reservation, its 1967 Protocol, and the African Refugee Convention. Benin's 1990 Constitution provided that treaties were superior in authority to laws and that foreigners had the same rights and liberties as citizens under conditions determined by law. Nationals of member states of Economic Community of West African States, such as Togo, were eligible for residence permits whether they were refugees or not.
Of about 27,000 refugees from Togo that entered in 2005, about 12,000 returned home with UNHCR's help and about 5,000 returned on their own.
Canada, Europe, and the United States accepted several refugees of other nationalities for resettlement. UNHCR and the Government called for a complete screening of the Togolese refugee population before opening resettlement to them.
Detention/Access to Courts
From November 2005 through early 2006, Lokossa authorities arrested and detained 16 refugees from Agame camp for holding a meeting without the authorization of local authorities and charged them with inciting a revolt. Authorities released them two to three days after they saw a prosecutor. Authorities also arrested 10 Agame refugees following the riot in February (see above). Benin detained two CAR asylum seekers at the request of the CAR government, which accused them of being members of an armed opposition movement. The Eligibility Committee rejected their applications and the cases were on appeal as of April 2007. The authorities did not detain any refugees for illegal entry, presence, movement, or work. Detained refugees had the right to legal representation.
The Constitution extended to all persons the presumption of innocence and equality before the law and its protections against arbitrary arrest, ex post facto punishment, and detention past 48 hours without presentation before a judge. Benin issued more than 5,000 identity cards to refugees. Those seeking asylum received six-month renewable provisional certificates. On occasion, authorities did not recognize the cards.
Many refugees had their documents burned during the February conflict with locals (see above).
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The Government allowed refugees to move freely in the country and to choose their place of residence. The Government reserved the authority to designate refugees' places of residence for their protection, without affecting their freedom of movement, but did not do so during the year. Local practitioners of the Oro cult in the rural areas around Agame camp occasionally required noninitiates, including refugees, to remain indoors during ceremonies.
The Constitution provided for freedom of movement and did not restrict it to citizens.
The 1984 decree provided that refugees "will receive" international travel documents "upon their request." UNHCR, however, decided whether to recommend that the Government issue international travel documents to refugees on a case-by-case basis, reevaluating whether the applicants still merited refugee status and whether their grounds for the document were reasonable. In practice, however, many refugees were able to travel in the region without official travel documents.
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, although reportedly not all employers were aware of this. With regard to profession, the 1975 Ordonnance afforded refugees the same rights as any other foreigners. The Government generally restricted civil service jobs to nationals, but could fill them with qualified refugees if necessary – which it did in public health institutions and schools.
Refugees cultivated land with local authorization and dominated the produce markets along the coast with superior products. With the Government's encouragement, their enterprises employed other refugees and 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.
Refugees could acquire, own, and transfer property of all types and have bank accounts.
The Constitution extended to all persons the protection of property rights and to all workers the right to organize and to strike, but reserved for citizens the guarantees of the right to work and equal access to employment.
Public Relief and Education
The 1975 Ordonnance allowed refugees health services on the same terms as nationals. Asylum seekers with six-month renewable certificates also had access to the same health and education services. Several nongovernmental organizations covered 80 percent of health services cost for all refugees, as well as 100 percent of the cost for the poorest refugees with HIV.
The Constitution reserved for citizens the guarantees of equal access to health and education, but the specific provision for public primary education had no such limitation. The 1975 Ordonnance also granted refugees the same rights as nationals to education and scholarships and the Government allowed Togolese refugee children to enroll in local schools. At the beginning of 2006, there were about 1,700 refugees registered in schools at Agame, of which 47 had passed A-levels.
Benin cooperated with UNHCR, as well as other international relief organizations. Benin and its donors did not include refugees in development programs, which focused on rural areas where refugees did not live.