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10 Facts About Refugees in Gabon

Refugees in Gabon

Gabon is a Central African country with a population of about 1,763,000. President Ali Bongo Ondimba, son of the former President Omar Bongo, was elected in 2009 and has run the country since. The period immediately following his election was marked by violence, primarily due to claims that election fraud took place. According to Amnesty International, Gabon is home to many cases of human rights abuse. However, conflicts in surrounding countries gave rise to a population of people seeking refuge in Gabon. Here are 10 facts about refugees in Gabon:

1. In Gabon, there were 943 refugees in 2015, according to the World Bank. This places the country behind neighboring countries Cameroon (342,973 refugees) and the Republic of the Congo (44,955 refugees). Neighboring country Equatorial Guinea’s official refugee count is zero.

2. The peak population of refugees was in 2000 at 17,982 refugees. The refugees came to Gabon fleeing civil wars and political violence in surrounding countries during the 1990s.

3. Most of the refugees fleeing to Gabon are from the Republic of the Congo. In 1997, civil war broke out between paramilitaries loyal to former President Denis Sassou Nguesso and military forces loyal to liberalizing President Pascal Lissouba, driving tens of thousands of refugees into Gabon.

4. Refugees in Gabon have come from at least 25 different countries including Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo.

5. Refugees do not live in refugee camps, but rather in Gabonese cities. About 80 percent of refugees in Gabon live in these urban areas, with many concentrated around the capital of Libreville.

6. Refugees have some freedoms in Gabon that are not always guaranteed in other African countries. They obtain special refugee ID cards and can move freely throughout Gabon. They are even allowed to choose where they seek residency. Furthermore, the Gabonese government has allowed UN entry into Gabon to provide humanitarian services for people seeking refuge. These include providing medical treatment, courses on integrating into Gabonese society and helping refugees voluntarily repatriate themselves.

7. Refugees face high unemployment rates and can have difficulty in finding work. The country’s businesses can prefer to hire other Gabonese people over refugees, and the Gabonese government even requires businesses to prove that there are no Gabonese available for a position before hiring a refugee.

8. Refugees in Gabon sometimes face harassment and detention by local police. Although the country has laws protecting them, refugees can be mistaken for illegal immigrants, or encounter police unfamiliar with the protection laws. The UN had to step in and secure the release of wrongfully detained refugees.

9. The Gabonese government – in partnership with the UNHCR, the UN’s agency responsible for refugees – gradually revoked the refugee status for refugees in Gabon. Refugees who wish to remain in the country must apply for permits to become migrant workers or apply for permanent residency somewhere in the country.

10. The population of refugees in Gabon has decreased every year since 2011 when the Gabonese government announced the end of refugee status in the country. Hundreds of refugees have voluntarily signed up for repatriation every year since that time, and, with help from the UN, have safely returned to their respective countries.

David Mclellan

Photo: Flickr