Côte d'Ivoire hosted about 26,300 refugees and asylum seekers, of which some 23,800 were Liberians who fled civil war between 1989 and 2003.
Security officers at checkpoints occasionally rejected or destroyed refugees' identity documents and detained, beat, or harassed them, although less frequently than in previous years.
In February, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), issued identity cards to 14,200 Liberian refugees 14 years of age and older. Valid for five years, the card serves as a residence permit. The refugees also have the option to naturalize in Côte d'Ivoire. The cards allow refugees to work legally and move freely within the country.
Law and Policy
Côte d'Ivoire is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, without reservation, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. The 2000 Constitution provides 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, has no national asylum or refugee legal framework, as the draft asylum law initiated in 1997 and reviewed in 2004 still has not passed into law.
In 2000, Côte d'Ivoire informally set up the Department of Aid and Assistance to Refugees and Stateless Persons (SAARA) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to help design and implement asylum policy, and the National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which includes representatives of several ministries but was without a formal written procedure, until February 2007, when the Government formally established it. UNHCR has a voice but no vote on cases. In the absence of national asylum legislation, SAARA and the NEC process refugee claims through the application of international legal provisions on asylum and Conclusions of UNHCR's Executive Committee.
In February 2007, a decree called for establishment of an Appeal Commission composed of the foreign affairs, internal affairs, and justice ministries but the Government did not establish it until October 2007 or train its staff until November 2007.
Detention/Access to Courts
The International Committee of the Red Cross' protection unit and UNHCR monitors detention centers. UNHCR provides counseling in detention centers, and works with two lawyers' offices to provide refugees with legal counseling and representation.
Liberians who arrived before 2003 received temporary cards attesting to their status, but those who arrived later do not. Security forces, however, often did not respect either of these documents. Non-Liberian refugees who receive refugee status through the NEC are eligible for refugee identity cards (RICs), which count as residency permits under a 2004 law. In February 2008, the Government issued cards to 14,200 Liberian refugees.
Passport-holding citizens of ECOWAS members have the right to be in Côte d'Ivoire for up to three months but longer stays require residence cards. Renewable Temporary Stay documents, costing 2,000 CFA francs (about $4), allow foreigners to remain in the country for six-month periods.
The 2000 Constitution extends to all persons its guarantees of equal access to and equality before the law; it also includes the presumption of innocence and the prohibition of arbitrary detention and ex post facto prosecution or punishment.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Humanitarian assistance is not limited to refugees living in camps, but many move to camps in Abidjan because of insecurity in the settlement areas and the closing of the transit center in Tabou.
Refugees can apply to UNHCR or SAARA for international travel documents, but have to justify their travel. Business trips require documentation from the customs services and the Ministry of Trade; students require admissions documents from their institution; and all travelers require confirmed private sponsors providing all necessities, including visas. According to UNHCR, this is "to avoid irregular movements or pressure for resettlement" once they receive the documents. Refugees with businesses registered with the Government can also receive them.
The 2000 Constitution does not specifically guarantee freedom of movement.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
A 1997 decree governing foreigners' access to work permits makes no exception for refugees. It requires employers to have advertised the position for two months, with no Ivorian accepting, and applicants to have a contract before entering the country.
Foreigners with valid resident permits, including refugees, can apply for work permits. To obtain a work permit, refugees have to apply to the Ministry of Labor, followed by SAARA, which transfers the document to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The employment law prevents refugees and asylum seekers from pursuing some professions, such as medicine and law. In most cases, employers do not register refugee employees with the social security service. Those with registered status enjoy equal protection of the labor laws.
The 2000 Constitution extends the rights to property; to work, including in the public sector; and the right to organize and strike to all persons, but reserves to citizens the right to run businesses. In practice, refugees can obtain licenses or permits to run businesses only if in partnership with nationals.
The Government has not fully implemented amendments to the 1998 law that restricted land ownership to nationals, which makes it difficult for refugees in rural area in the west of the country to farm.
Public Relief and Education
Refugees are eligible for public relief on par with nationals.
Although the 2000 Constitution reserves its rights to health and education to citizens, in practice, the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene operates clinics for children, infants, and prenatal services for both nationals and foreigners, including refugees, free or at low cost. Refugees have access to four medical clinics, and by presenting their identification they paid one fifth of the cost for consultations and medications but had to pay the full costs of chronic illnesses.
A UNHCR regional program in Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, and Sierra Leone provides literacy and vocational training, and HIV/AIDS awareness programs to adolescents. Non-Liberian refugees and asylum seekers have access to primary and secondary school, but annual fees were 90,000 CFA francs (about $205). UNHCR offers vocational training to refugees in Tabou.
The Government gives humanitarian organizations access to refugees including areas it previously deemed sensitive.
The Government did not include refugees in its 2002 Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 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.