World Refugee Survey 2009: Cameroon
Cameroon hosted 91,900 refugees and asylum seekers, including about 65,200 from the Central African Republic (CAR), 20,000 from Chad, and several thousand more from Nigeria, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and other countries.
2008 Events Summary
In February, at least 37,000 people crossed a river into the border town of Kousseri in Cameroon to escape fighting in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. When fighting eased in the capital of Chad, many returned to Chad, although others were reluctant to do so because of continued insecurity.
In late May, health authorities launched a nation-wide vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis in collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO), which included refugee children. The Government asked to 3,500 Chadian refugees to come to have their children vaccinated.
In June, one Chadian refugee died during a violent protest in Langui camp. Refugees had protested a lack of protein in their diet, having lived for some time on rice alone. They took over the gates to the camp, held three Red Cross vehicles hostage, and destroyed the vehicle of a Government official sent to investigate. The Government sent in riot police, who killed one refugee and injured others.
In October, police arrested a UNHCR-recognized refugee who was a former Colonel in the army of Equitorial Guinea and turned him over to security forces in that country’s embassy. The security forces returned him to Equitorial Guinea where they held him incommunicado. Cameroon denied any complicity in the deportation and arrested the two police involved.
A local official in the East Province warned refugees not to fraudulently obtain Cameroonian citizenship or collaborate with bandits. There are large numbers of bandits in the East Province, where many refugees live. Many of the bandits are former CAR soldiers or ex-rebels from Chad who commit armed robbery, rape, and kidnapping for ransoms, often of Mbororo children.
The World Food Programme (WFP) offered assistance to 8,000 Chadian refugees in the far North province and 48,000 refugees from CAR in East province.
Law and Policy
Although Cameroon adopted a national law related to refugee status in 2005, the Government has not implemented it. Instead, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hears claims and makes decisions on refugee status. Asylum seekers register through the UNHCR office in Yaoundé. Applicants receive appointment slips for eligibility interviews and wait up to five months for interviews. The law permits denied applicants to appeal within 30 days of notification but does not allow ordinary courts to review decisions. Applicants submit their appeals to a UNHCR office and haved hearings with UNHCR within three months.
Cameroon 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. Cameroon’s 2005 Refugee Law applies the refugee definitions of both Conventions and prohibits refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers for reasons other than national security and public order, pursuant to a lawful decision, and with 72-hour notice to UNHCR. Article 7 of the law states that “no person shall be turned back at the border…to return to a territory where that person’s life, bodily integrity or freedom would be threatened.”
The preamble of the Constitution states, “every person shall have the right to settle in any place and to move about freely, subject to the statutory provisions concerning public law and order, security and tranquility.”
Detention/Access to Courts
Cameroon does not punish asylum seekers for illegal entry, provided they come directly from a country of threat and present themselves immediately to the authorities, but the Refugee Law permits 24 hours of detention, renewable twice.
The U.S. State Department reported the torture and beating of detainees by security forces in Cameroon and described prison conditions as “harsh and life-threatening.” UNHCR also monitors the detention of refugees and asylum seekers.
Detained refugees and asylum seekers can challenge their detention before independent tribunals, but have to hire attorneys at their own expense.
The Government stopped issuing identity cards to refugees and asylum seekers in 1994. Instead, UNHCR issues asylum seeker and refugee certificates. The 2005 Refugee Law provides for the issuance of refugee identity cards but UNHCR generally issues certificates to refugees and asylum seekers over age 18, generally within six days of registration. These certificates carry the holder’s photo, but asylum seekers’ appointment slips do not, and police occasionally confiscate these. Four days after asylum seekers register with UNHCR, they receive certificates bearing their pictures. Asylum seekers in the process of appealing denials receive asylum seeker appeal certificates. While authorities in urban areas generally recognize these documents, police and gendarmes in rural areas occasionally do not and detain their bearers. Refugees recognized prima facie receive only ration cards but these are not identity documents and provide no protection.
In 2007, the Government published a decree authorizing UNHCR to issue refugee identification cards and in early 2008, UNHCR began replacing old refugee certificates with new, more durable identification cards. UNHCR claims the new cards help refugees avoid the police harassment they experienced with the refugee certificates.
Cameroon requires all persons to carry identification cards, and in sweeps and at pervasive immigration enforcement checkpoints and roadblocks, police frequently arrest, beat, and extort money from those with no documentation.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
There are no refugee camps in Cameroon. Registered refugees and asylum seekers with identity documents are generally free to travel throughout the country and settle where they please, but the Government requires asylum seekers to notify immigration authorities of any change of address. Police and gendarmes extort money from refugees who did not have refugee certificates when they triy to move around.
The Refugee Law entitles refugees to two-month, non-renewable “safe-conduct” passes, which confirm they are in the process of regularizing their status and allowing them to travel freely throughout the country.
Although the Refugee Law gives refugees the right to international travel documents, only non-camp refugees recognized under UNHCR’s mandate receive them. Lack of identity documents seriously impedes the movement of Mbororo refugees who had to move their cattle seasonally for grazing.
To apply for travel documents, refugees have to submit a UNHCR-issued refugee certificate, an invitation from a person sponsoring them to travel abroad, and a letter from their host or proof of employment in the destination country to UNHCR and the Ministry of External Relations, which confirms the status of the applicant. The confirmed application then goes to the National Police Headquarters which stamped and issues the travel document.
The Government permits nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) including the National Human Rights League of Cameroon and the Association of Refugees without Borders to assist refugees in choosing their place of residence and to protect their right to move around freely.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Refugees the Government recognized prima facie and asylum seekers cannot legally work. The Refugee Law, however, grants registered refugees the right to work, to own and transfer property, and to practice professions on par with nationals. The 1997 Entry and Residence Law covered others, requiring a work contract initialed by the Minister of Labor and a medical certificate by an approved doctor prior to arrival. The 1997 law also required anyone wishing to practice a profession or engage in industrial, agricultural, pastoral, commercial, craft, or artistic activities to have an entry visa of the required duration, which authorities have to authorize for the particular profession or activity. The Government does not require individually registered refugees to have work permits in order to work, as the law considers them on par with nationals in this respect, but no foreigner can work in the national civil services or state enterprises.
Registered refugees can engage in business and obtain almost all necessary licenses and permits on par with nationals. The Refugee Law permits refugees to acquire, hold title, and transfer any private property. The Refugee Law also provides that refugees receive the same protections in labor and security as nationals, although in practice, unemployment insurance is available for neither nationals nor refugees.
According to the Government, most Mbororo cattle herders have permission to graze their cattle without legal restrictions. In some cases, local authorities allot them pastoral plots.
Public Relief and Education
The Government cooperates with UNHCR and humanitarian agencies in assisting refugees. Cameroon does not provide public relief to its citizens or to refugees, but the Refugee Law grants refugees education and access to public health systems on par with nationals. Medical care is available for a fee to both refugees and nationals. Refugee students are eligible to receive educational funding provided by the Government or civil society organizations. UNHCR offers scholarships covering tuition fees and part of the cost of school supplies for urban refugees enrolled in the same primary schools as nationals.
Cameroon did not include refugees in its 2007 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Progress Report for international donors.
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