Refugees ask Senegalese authorities to improve living conditions

Published: 11 Jul 2014
By: Djibril Balde

June 20th marked United Nations World Refugee Day. In Senegal, IRRI marked its commitment to promoting and protecting the human rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) by raising awareness among both the authorities and the Senegalese public of the conditions of refugees and of their rights under the 1951 United Nations (UN) and 1969 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) refugee conventions to which Senegal is a party.According to the last Universal Periodic Review, Senegal was home to 14,237 refugees and 2,333 asylum-seekers, and around 17,000 Senegalese have fled to other countries in the region with many living as refugees or asylum-seekers in the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.

Over the past few years, the number and geographic diversity of asylum-seekers and refugees coming to Senegal has only grown. These alarming numbers are, in part, due to the series of large crises over the past few years in a nearby countries, notably in Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic (CAR), Somalia, Mali, DRC, Sudan, Guinea, to name a few.

It has thus become even more urgent that the Senegalese authorities take positive measures to improve the functioning of structures like the National Commission of Eligibility (CNE), – of the commission in charge of processing asylum claims – which has been in a state of lethargy for a number of years. The Senegalese authorities must also undertake reforms to reinforce the protection of the rights of refugees – and especially the most vulnerable – and abide by the refugee conventions.

Drawing on interviews IRRI undertook with refugees in Senegal, many consider themselves as ‘Forgotten People’ in the country of Térenga (hospitality). The majority of asylum-seekers live in extreme poverty: with neither housing nor means to satisfy their basic needs, they are deprived of the basic fundamental rights to food, housing, education, and health. Their situation is further complicated by the slowness of the CNE, which can take as many as three years to make a decision.

Even after obtaining refugee status, refugees have trouble obtaining necessary documents, such as the refugee identity cards and travel documents.

Confronted by this extremely concerning situation, IRRI has for many years urged the government of Senegal, the UNHCR, and human rights NGOs to redouble their efforts to ameliorate the situation of refugees living in Senegal.

The need for much greater efforts notwithstanding, Senegal’s development of a draft bill amending and replacing the Refugee Act (Law n°68-27 of July 24, 1968 modified by Law n°75-109 of December 20, 1975) does represent some progress. One of the bill’s provisions is the requirement that appeals of the CNE’s decisions be submitted to an independent body; the CNE is currently responsible for processing both the first claim and the appeal. IRRI has made recommendations to further improve the bill to be submitted to the Senegalese National Assembly shortly, before the bill is voted on:

To achieve more effective protection, IRRI urges the state of Senegal

◾to pay more attention to the situation of refugees living in Senegal;
◾to put in place systems of social assistance;
◾to provide or facilitate the provision of support from the moment of their arrival;
◾to create welcome centres for the most vulnerable asylum-seekers, and
◾to provide those accorded refugee status with identity cards and travel documents in a timely manner, as the law stipulates.

IRRI also recommends that Senegal consider offering naturalisation to Mauritanian and Rwandan refugees who have expressed to the UNHCR their desire for it.

Finally, IRRI reiterates the need for Senegal to ratify the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) and calls on the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons to conduct a fact-finding mission to Senegal to meet with relevant authorities and NGOs.

Programmes: Rights in Exile
Regions: Western Africa, Senegal
Type: IRRI Blog