Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees.
As of September 1, the country hosted 51,054 refugees.
The country, especially in areas that border the DRC, received numerous waves of displaced persons in previous years. Between October 2009 and May 2010, nearly 140,000 refugees fleeing ethnic violence and rebellion in Equateur Province of the DRC sought shelter in Likouala Department, adding to several thousand DRC refugees who were already in the region. As of October 6, 119,024 DRC nationals had repatriated since 2012, including 9,945 during the year. An additional 1,596 new DRC refugees registered with the UNHCR during the year, for a total of 23,331 registered DRC refugees. There were 148 new requests for asylum from DRC nationals, for a total of 2,012 asylum seekers from the DRC.
As of September 9, the country hosted 9,028 Rwandan refugees who fled the genocide in 1994. At a tripartite meeting in 2012, the governments of the Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, with the UNHCR, agreed to invoke a cessation clause that would revoke the refugee status of Rwandans in the Congo beginning on June 30, 2013. As of that date, Rwandan refugees were required to return to Rwanda, formalize their legal status in the Congo, or apply for refugee status based on individual claims due to particular circumstances. The UNHCR reported nearly all Rwandans subject to the cessation clause chose to file for an individualized determination of refugee status. The Congolese government had not begun the interviews to determine individualized status and said it would consider those who have filed to be refugees until a final decision is taken on their applications. Between January 1 and September 9, 13 Rwandans repatriated from the Congo without seeking Congolese citizenship. Nineteen Rwandan nationals applied for asylum during the year, making a total of 244 asylum seekers from Rwanda in the Congo.
The UNHCR recommended cessation of refugee status for Angolan refugees--effective June 2012--and the government began implementing cessation for Angolans in September 2012. As of September 9, the Congo hosted 473 refugees from Angola who had filed for individualized determinations of refugee status. The government had not begun interviews to determine individualized status and stated it would consider those who had filed to be refugees until a final decision was taken on their applications. The country hosted 60 Angolan asylum seekers; there were no new asylum applications from Angolans during the year.
The country saw an influx of persons fleeing the violence in the CAR beginning in December 2012. According to the UNHCR, as of October 6, the country hosted 20,007 refugees, 7,961 of whom arrived during the year. There were 96 registered asylum seekers from the CAR, of whom 19 registered during the year.
The National Refugee Assistance Center handled applications for refugee status. The center received 80 to 90 percent of its operating budget from the UNHCR.
According to the UNHCR, as of September 9, 193 persons applied for asylum during the year, and 2,735 asylum seekers remained in the country.
Refoulement: The government reportedly did not always provide protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom might be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
In April police in Brazzaville launched Operation Mbata ya Bakolo (“a slap from your elders” in a local language) in response to increased gang violence in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In July a human rights NGO filed a complaint with the Ministry of the Interior asserting that during the operation, authorities forcibly sent at least 60 refugees and asylum seekers back to the DRC.
Refugee Abuse: According to the UNHCR, gender-based violence was frequent at refugee sites, with 27 cases of rape reported from January through August; 20 involved minors. Only five of these complaints were lodged with authorities as official complaints. There were 64 cases concerning gender-based violence pending before the courts, none of which was resolved during the year. The vast majority of such cases went unreported because complaints could take three or more years before courts would examine them. Families of victims often preferred to negotiate settlements directly with the perpetrators. The UNHCR’s protection officers and medical personnel provided medical, psychosocial, and legal assistance to victims of gender-based violence, including rape. Refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals and legal recourse for criminal complaints (for example, rape) and civil disputes.
A human rights NGO reported that on June 11, police officers in the Brazzaville neighborhood of Kibeliba detained a Rwandan refugee to force him to pay money owed by his son. Police allegedly held him at the station and tortured him, placing him in stress positions until he agreed to pay 100,000 CFA francs ($189).
Operation Mbata ya Bakolo created an exodus of DRC nationals to the DRC. The stated purpose was to crack down on undocumented immigrants, tens of thousands of whom lived in Brazzaville, and to deport those involved in criminal activity. Police activity, rumor, and ambiguous government messaging led to a mass departure as landlords asked their tenants to leave for fear of fines or government reprisal. Authorities had neither prepared for the increase in traffic at the river port nor coordinated with the DRC government.
By late April a humanitarian crisis arose as several thousand DRC nationals waited for days in unprotected, wet, unhygienic conditions at the river port in Brazzaville. Multiple sources reported allegations of abuse, mistreatment, and sexual violence inflicted on DRC citizens by police. By mid-May the governments of the Congo and the DRC had agreed on increased ferry service to alleviate crowding, and the Congolese government’s Humanitarian Action Office, with the assistance of UN agencies, began providing basic health services, sanitation, food, water, and shelter to DRC nationals waiting at the port in Brazzaville.
From April to June, an estimated 130,000 to 160,000 DRC nationals repatriated via the port in Brazzaville. Most of them repatriated voluntarily, but under social or economic duress. By June the flood of departing DRC nationals had subsided substantially. The national police extended the operation to the southwestern cities of Dolisie and Nkayi on June 30. Throughout July, August, and September, a slow stream of DRC nationals from the south departed the country either via the Brazzaville port or by land borders closer to the coast.
Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees. Anecdotal evidence suggested quotas and excessive work permit fees limited refugee employment opportunities in the formal sector. A health-care organization stated the law required it to hire the country’s nationals for at least 90 percent of its positions. The same organization stated refugees were required to obtain two-year work permits that cost approximately 150,000 CFA francs ($284), approximately equivalent to three months’ salary.
Many refugees worked informally in the agriculture sector to obtain food. Some refugees farmed land that belonged to local nationals in exchange for a percentage of the harvest or a cash payment.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to all refugees. During the academic year, primary schools enrolled 5,225 refugee children, including 2,665 girls. Access to secondary education for refugees was severely limited. Most secondary education teachers were refugees who either volunteered to teach or were paid by the parents of refugee children. There were 2,223 refugee children enrolled in secondary school, including 1,023 girls.
Durable Solutions: In 2010 the government signed a tripartite agreement with the government of the DRC and the UNHCR that outlined the conditions and means for voluntary repatriation of the Likouala refugees to the DRC’s Equateur Province. Large-scale repatriation was delayed due to the refugees’ desire to wait for both international repatriation assistance and the consolidation of post-conflict peace and reconciliation between the Lobala and Boba tribes. Following the beginning of the UNHCR repatriation campaign in 2012, the agency successfully repatriated more than 119,000 DRC nationals to Equateur Province.