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UNHCR Trains National Assembly Members on Refugee Laws

Sep 23, 2008, 6:35 AM

Refugees in society are obviously part of society and those protecting them have the responsibility to know the laws governing them. UNHCR has made lots of efforts to get the community, the refugees and the government know what a refugee is and how they are to be protected. They have further gone ahead to educate the refugees themselves on a series of pertinent issues including their repatriation, succession and integration. Their points explained much and made an impact and many refugees have returned home. Society's anchorman, Augustine Kanjia follows the training and writes what was discussed with the National Assembly Members. Benedicte Voos, the Associate Protection Officer and Stephanie Lepoutre, Regional Officer for Refugee Status both from their Regional Office in Dakar conducted the training.

Fatou Barry Officer-In-Charge, UNHCR , in her welcome remarks says, "There is a greater consciousness today of refugees by parliamentarians, security officials and other stakeholders of our various roles to protecting refugees and other persons of concern and ensuring that collectively, we provide them with the sanctuary to seek and enjoy protection from persecution."

Protecting refugees she said, is the primary responsibility of States which is why, it is very encouraging when UNHCR receives request from stakeholders such as Gambian parliamentarians requesting to be provided with workshops such as today to enable them fulfill their roles effectively. It is even more encouraging to see the level of support provided by parliamentarians to the Refugee Bill that we envisage will soon be passed this year as law. "We congratulate you on your genuine dedication to service and towards the development of The Gambia," she said.

Fatou Barry thanked the Gambia government for their support in the area of protection.

Commissioner Seedy Touray from the Immigration Department said it was the third time UNHCR was embarking on such an important sensitization and also trying to see that the bill on Refugee Laws is debated and brought into law. Gambia is one of the few countries that have not got the Refugee Bill and theCommission. "I appeal to the to parliamentarians to expedite the bill and make it into law.

Benedicta Voos, Associate Protection Officer from Dakar in her deliberation, talking about the over all objective said it is to gain a common understanding on what refugee is and what international protection means. She said participants need to know who is a refugee. She gave the history of UNHCR .

What is UNHCR? Benedicta asked. UNHCR, she said is a humanitarian and non-political organisation established to help refugees. They are mandated to provide international protection to refugees. If State does not ensure protection to its citizens, then international protection comes into play. International protection is surrogate, substitute and temporary.


1.Voluntary repatriation to country of origin.

2.Local Integration in the country of Asylum.

3.Reference for resettlement to third country, though the final decision rests entirely on the country.

Benedicta Voos talking on UNHCR's protection activities said there were mixed migration and International Protection. Stephanie Lepoutre defined economic migrants and said they are those who go for money but it is a generic term. "Those people may have been deprived from getting a good job due to their tribe, political background or so, that makes the person move to another country that is an economic migrant. Some people may find it difficult to get a job in their country due to their religious background, tribal, political or something and so they go to find it elsewhere becoming economic migrant."

Benedict Voos continued talking on the concept of international protection and mentioned the legal framework of the International Refugee Protection. She mentioned International laws and standards, regional laws and standards and national laws and standards. She says, "This year The Gambia will ratify their law and use it in line with refugees," she said. She said the international laws and standards the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, which defines the term refugees having geographical and historical constraints in the 1967 refugee protocol.

Benedicta Voos defined the word refugee according to the 1957 Convention as a well-founded fear of persecution because of ones race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. (Article 1A of Geneva Convention.) She further gave the OAU definition of a refugee and gave refugee definition under UNHCR Mandate.

She said there were exclusion clauses for those who have committed war crime or crime against humanity. Those who committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to admission to that country were excluded from being admitted as refugees.

Benedicta further gave five points on Cessation, which comes into effect come December 31, 2008 for Sierra Leonean refugees.

1.Voluntarily accepts the protection of his country.

2.Voluntarily re-acquires his nationality after losing it,

3.Acquires new nationality and enjoys the protection of that country,

4.Has voluntarily re-established him or herself in the country which he left owing to fear of persecution,

5.Can no longer refuse to accept the protection received and many others.

She said there were possible exceptions of cessation that is the continuous need for international protection, e.g. Sierra Leonean refugees who have compelling reasons arising from previous persecution. This has to be well founded before the protection is given again.

Stephanie Lepoutre said other ECOWAS citizens who are not refugees but live in The Gambia cannot be protected by UNHCR by UNHCR. Commissioner Seedy Touray said the eligible Commission would have the mandate to interview the asylum seeker and members of the said commission to be taken from stakeholders.

Looking at succession, she said they must look at two exceptions. UNHCR has ten points plan for mixed-migration. Stephanie said lots of money is giving to Mali to control migration. Computers are given to them as well. "We also try to be at border crossings though not easily possible. We do it in Mali and also in Senegal. Refugee issue in West Africa is difficult. Getting refugees status in Senegal is really difficult." Stephanie said Senegal is really difficult to gain refugee status. She dismissed the notion that people who travel through several countries only to come to The Gambia to seek refuge was not right. She said Senegalese were seen in Argentina seeking refuge even when there was a language barrier. You can be a refugee in line with the five points to become a refugee. People can be refugees anywhere depending on the destination they get visas for.