Central African Republic Approves Refugee Law
by Annie Raykov, UNHCR
CAR parliament approves refugee law
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 the Head of State, Francois Bozizé, before it enters into force. While CAR has ratified several international instruments pertaining to refugee matters, it has lacked the domestic legislation needed to meet its obligations under international law. Up until now, refugee issue were 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 recognised 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 CAR or sent forcibly to a country where their life or liberty could be threatened.
"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 formalises 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 more than 8,000 refugees living in CAR, including some 2,000 Congolese. Some 98,000 Central Africans have fled conflict-affected areas in the country's north to neighboring countries. An estimated 197,000 civilians are displaced within CAR.