Central African Republic parliament approves refugee law

News Stories, 4 December 2007

© UNHCR/N.Rost
Sudanese refugees in Sam Ouandja refugee site in northeastern Central African Republic (CAR) earlier this year. The CAR parliament has passed a refugee law.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, December 4 (UNHCR) Legislators in the Central African Republic (CAR) have unanimously approved a new law guaranteeing refugees protection and many other fundamental rights.

The National Assembly adopted the Law on the Status of Refugees last Thursday, some six months after the draft was given a green light by the government's Council of Ministers.

The law must now be signed by President François Bozizé to come into force. CAR has ratified several international instruments pertaining to refugee matters, but it has lacked the domestic legislation needed to meet its obligations. Refugee issues have been dealt with through decrees and ordinances.

The law guarantees people fleeing conflict and persecution the right to enter CAR territory, to apply for asylum and to be recognized as refugees if they fulfil the definitions contained in the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. It also establishes an appeals commission to re-examine the cases of people who have been denied refugee status in the first instance.

In addition, the law guarantees people seeking refuge in CAR the fundamental rights elaborated in international refugee law. This means that refugees will have most of the same rights enjoyed by CAR citizens, including the rights to employment, to freedom of association, to social assistance, to health services, to education and to freedom of movement and residency.

Under the new legislation, refugees cannot be expelled from the CAR or sent forcibly to a country where their life or liberty could be at threat.

"Since independence, the government and people of CAR have shown generous hospitality towards refugees, welcoming men, women and children seeking protection as a result of conflict or persecution. The adoption of a national refugee law formalizes this liberal asylum policy," said Bruno Geddo, UNHCR representative in Bangui.

With the arrival earlier this year of 2,700 refugees from the Darfur region in Sudan, there are now some 9,000 refugees living in CAR, including some 2,000 Congolese. Some 80,000 Central Africans have fled conflict-affected areas in the country's north to neighbouring countries. An estimated 220,000 civilians are displaced within CAR.