Asylum seekers and refugees seek protection in Senegal

Published: 20 Jun 2013
By: Djibril Balde

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) would like to draw the attention of the authorities and Senegalese public opinion to the situation of refugees. Senegal has signed and ratified international and regional conventions relating to the 1951 UN and the 1969 OAU Conventions on refugees. In addition, Senegal has adopted a national law on refugees which installed the National Eligibility Commission (Commission Nationale d’Eligibilité (CNE)), the governmental body which determines asylum in Senegal.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 38,000 of a number of different nationalities, the majority of which are Mauritanian, living in Senegal. This figure is understandable when one considers the instability in many African countries, particularly those in the West African sub-region, with the eruption of the Malian crisis, the political situation in Guinea and the failure to respect fundamental freedoms in the Gambia.

Refugees do not leave their homes because they wish to; they leave because they are forced to by war, persecution, discrimination and massive violations of human rights. These victims of forced displacement need effective protection in their host country. They have left their countries at a time of catastrophe and have often left everything behind, making them very vulnerable.

There are significant dysfunctions in the Senegalese asylum system. Many applicants for asylum have seen their requests for asylum have seen their requests rejected three years after their initial application to the CNE without receiving any reasons for their rejection. This despite the fact that it is clearly provided in the national law, in Article 9, that “the conclusions of the CNE on various matters should be reasoned.” And during their wait, which can last three years, the asylum seeker does not benefit from any type of assistance, either from the UNHCR or the state. Nothing can justify the administrative delay in addressing these issues. This has been criticized by Senegalese NGOs working on refugee issues for a number of years.

In addition, there is no welcome centre for vulnerable asylum seekers in Senegal, such as pregnant women, unaccompanied minors, or the elderly. Many of them sleep in the open, more particularly on Dakar’s beaches, in the bus station, or in unfinished houses.

UNHCR should make efforts to help the victims of forced migration. Many refugees criticize the lack of assistance from UNHCR. At the same time, we must recall that the first mission of the UNCHR is to seek to guarantee the rights and the well-being of the refugees and to coordinate international action to assist them.

According to IRRI’s information, about 20,000 to 40,000 internally displaced persons uprooted from the fighting in Casamance. These persons live in difficult circumstance and are in need of effective assistance and protection.

IRRI therefore forwards the following recommendations for the improved protection of refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers:

To the Senegalese government :

1) Put in place a program of assistance to refugees and create a welcome centre for the most vulnerable asylum seekers;

2) Promote durable solutions as recognized by the UN, that is voluntary return, local integration and resettlement in a third country;

3) Ratify the African Union Convention on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention);

4) Reinforce cooperation with organizations that work on the protection of refugees in Senegal such as IRRI, WARIPNET and RADDHO;

5) Respect the principle of non-refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with international law.


1) Monitor whether the international instruments which have been signed and ratified by Senegal are respected ;

2) Assist vulnerable asylum seekers;

3) Reinforce the protection of refugees and the internally displaced in Casamance.

On this World Refugee Day 2013, we take into account that any person can be the object of persecution. Consequently we must fight against the root causes of forced displacement.

Programmes: Causes of Displacement, Statelessness, Citizenship and Right to a Nationality
Regions: Western Africa, Senegal
Type: IRRI Blog