Refugees and IDPs in Senegal struggling to have their voices heard

Published: 2 Jul 2012
By: Djibril Balde

On June 19 2012, IRRI, along with Accueil Aide et Assistance aux Réfugiés (AAAR) and Action pour les Droits Humains et l’Amitié (ADHA), organised a demonstration in Dakar to celebrate World Refugee Day. Representatives from about ten refugee communities living in Senegal participated in the celebration, including Gambians, Guineans, Ivoirians, Mauritanians, Chadians, Sudanese, Congolese, Rwandans, Liberian and Ethiopians.

Our aim was to sensitise the Senegalese population and push the authorities to provide better protection of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons. So during the demonstration several activists and refugees gave interviews to the media covering the demonstration, to talk about the weaknesses of the Senegalese asylum system and the negative practices of the National Commission of Eligibility (the body that determines the refugee status in Senegal). They were able to describe the problems they face on a daily basis and called upon the Senegalese authorities to take steps to improve their living conditions.

One of the main problems is the fact that many asylum seekers, mainly those from East and Central Africa, applied for asylum in Senegal in 2010 and still haven’t’ received any clear answer from the NCE – even though, by law, the process should take no more than 90 days. Instead, they have to return endlessly for appointments every three months.

To make matters worse, there is no reception centre in Senegal for asylum seekers to stay while waiting for a decision on their applications, and no other source of support. And they are sometimes arrested during police round-ups because of lack of documents. This leaves asylum seekers vulnerable and unprotected.

Therefore we called upon the National Commission of Eligibility to better respect the rights of refugees in Senegal. In particular, we recommended that integrating NGOs working on refugee issues within the Commission as observers might allow for more effective monitoring and greater transparency in decision making.

In addition to the problems facing asylum seekers, we also raised the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Senegal. Since 1982, there has been ongoing armed conflict between the army and the Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) rebels in the south of Senega. The fighting has generated about 40,000 IDPs. These people need support and protection, but often do not receive assistance. In response, the demonstrators strongly recommend that the Senegalese government ratify and implement the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa. The ‘Kampala Convention’, as it is called, is the first legally binding regional instrument in the world to impose on states the obligation to protect and assist IDPs.

Ultimately, the slogan and strongest message of the demonstration was “Let’s Fight the root causes of forced migration in Africa”. We also denounced armed conflict, the lack of respect for human rights (in particular freedom of expression) which are the root causes of forced migration in Africa. The event was covered by Radio Television Sénégalaise, Le Soleil, Canal Info News, Sud FM, Afia FM, West Africa Democracy Radio and Chanel Africa South Africa.

Maybe somehow this will create better justice for asylum seekers, refugees and IDPs in Senegal.

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