The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
As of October 1, the country hosted a total of 52,601 refugees.
The country, especially in areas that border the DRC, received numerous waves of displaced persons in recent years. Between October 2009 and May 2010, nearly 115,000 refugees fleeing ethnic violence and rebellion in Equateur Province of the DRC sought shelter in the country’s Likouala Department. Most of these refugees have since been repatriated. As of October 31, the country hosted 36,986 refugees and 1,942 asylum seekers from the DRC.
As of October 31, the country hosted 8,487 Rwandan refugees who fled the genocide in 1994. At a tripartite meeting in 2012, the governments of the Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, with the UNHCR, decided to invoke a cessation clause that would revoke the per se refugee status of Rwandans in the Congo beginning on June 30. As of that date, Rwandan refugees were required either to return to Rwanda, change their status to permanent resident, or seek an individual status as refugee due to particular circumstances. In August the UNHCR reported that, following the June 30 deadline, the majority of Rwandans subject to the cessation clause chose to file for an individualized determination of refugee status. The government announced in September that exemption interviews would begin for approximately 4,000 Rwandans affected by the cessation.
The UNHCR recommended the cessation of refugee status for Angolan refugees – effective June 2012 – and the government began implementing cessation for Angolans in September 2012.
The country also saw an influx of persons fleeing the violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) beginning in December 2012. According to the UNHCR, as of October 31, the country hosted 8,555 refugees and 128 registered asylum seekers from the CAR.
The National Refugee Assistance Center handled applications for refugee status. The center received 80 to 90 percent of its operating budget from the UNHCR.
Access to Asylum: According to the UNHCR, as of June 30, 308 people applied for asylum during the year; and as of October 31, a total of 2,695 asylum seekers remained in the country.
Refugee Abuse: Gender-based violence was frequent at refugee sites, with 31 cases of rape reported up to June 30, of which 13 involved minors. There were 59 cases concerning gender-based violence pending before the courts. According to the UNHCR, the vast majority of such cases went unreported because complaints could take a year or more before courts would examine them; therefore, families of victims often preferred to negotiate settlements directly with the perpetrators. The UNHCR’s protection officers and medical personnel provided medical, psychosocial, and legal assistance to victims of gender-based violence, including rape. Refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals and legal recourse for criminal complaints (e.g., rape) and civil disputes.
Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees. Anecdotal evidence suggested quotas and excessive work permit fees limited refugee employment opportunities. A health-care organization stated the law required it to hire the country’s nationals for at least 90 percent of its positions. The same organization stated refugees were required to obtain two-year work permits that cost approximately 150,000 CFA francs (CFA) ($309), approximately equivalent to three months’ salary.
Many refugees worked informally in the agriculture sector to obtain food. Some refugees farmed land that belonged to local nationals in exchange for a percentage of the harvest or for a cash payment.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to all refugees. During the academic year primary schools enrolled 16,726 refugee children, including 8,176 girls. Access to secondary education for refugees was severely limited. Most secondary education teachers were refugees themselves who either volunteered to teach or were paid by the parents of refugee children. There were 5,250 refugee children enrolled in secondary school, including 1,886 girls.
Durable Solutions: In 2010 the government signed a tripartite agreement with the government of the DRC and the UNHCR that outlined the conditions and means for voluntary repatriation of the Likouala refugees to the DRC’s Equateur Province. Large-scale repatriation was delayed, however, due to the refugees’ desire to wait for both international repatriation assistance and the consolidation of postconflict peace and reconciliation between the Lobala and Boba tribes. Since the UNHCR began its repatriation campaign in May 2012, the agency repatriated 105,836 DRC nationals to Equateur Province.
In October 2011 the government convened a second tripartite meeting with the government of Angola and the UNHCR. Agreement was reached to launch a voluntary repatriation effort in November 2011 that would fall within the framework of the 2002 tripartite agreement. The government invoked the cessation clause and revoked refugee status for the Angolan refugees remaining in the country as of September 30, 2012. Most Angolans who previously maintained refugee status returned to Angola, but as of October 31, 326 remained in the country.