Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter

The Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter is a monthly publication that focuses on the provision of refugee legal aid. It is aimed primarily to be a resource for legal aid providers in the Global South where law journals and other resources are hard to access. It complements the information portal
http://www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org
The newsletter follows recent developments in the interpretation of refugee law; case law precedents from different constituencies; reports and helpful resources for refugee legal aid providers; and stories of struggle and success in refugee legal aid work.

Refugees languish in unknown Djibouti detention centre

By refugee estimates, the detention centre at Nagad Military Academy in Djibouti City houses 124 refugees in one room, approximately 20 metres by 20 metres. The refugees there sleep in shifts for adequate floor space. Despite a number of recorded cases of tuberculosis (verified by UNHCR), the room lacks functioning ventilation, and is stiflingly hot under the summer sun. Refugees are not permitted out of the holding facility. They report no access to urgent medical care, and threats of deportation when they raise concerns with detention centre staff. Refugees are not provided clothing, and remain in the tatters of whatever they were wearing when they were arrested by the Djiboutian authorities. Most have been held for three years or more. Visits from UNHCR staff are irregular and rarely result in any action, according to one refugee on the site.
 
According to UNHCR, Djibouti hosts 14,000 refugees, primarily from Somalia, but also large numbers of Ethiopians and Eritreans. Despite a detained refugee population at Nagad since mid-2008, UNHCR makes no mention of the detention centre or the absence of detained refugees’ access to legal or urgent medical aid in its Djibouti country profile, preferring to focus on the much larger and similarly challenged Ali Adde refugee camp along the country’s southern border. In fact, Nagad detention centre has only gained publicity through a confidential Wikileaks cable released in 2008, in which UNHCR reports the conditions at the detention centre — which primarily houses Eritrean military defectors — as ‘satisfactory’ and justifies the further detention of refugees in the centre, stating it would be ‘impossible to accommodate [the refugees] at Djibouti’s sole refugee camp at Ali Adde … since the addition of former Eritrean soldiers would likely cause uncomfortable tensions among the camp’s existing Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean civilian refugees’.
 
Concern for refugees in Djibouti is mounting, including a recent appeal by the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa regarding extrajudicial arrest and violation of refugee protection by Djiboutian authorities. The US Department of State has similarly criticised the Djiboutian government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, including a lack of respect for refugee rights, sexual violence, lack of access to basic needs, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Others have accused the government of Djibouti of colluding with neighbouring countries for the ‘gestapo-style’ round-up and extradition of refugees seeking asylum there. Djibouti’s history of refugee deportations is well documented, including a massive operation in 2003.

Despite this information, however, Djibouti remains without the substantive attention of refugee advocates, and the Nagad detention centre continues to exist under the radar of rights organisations. The Southern Refugee Legal Aid Network has not yet found a person in residence in Djibouti who provides legal aid for refugees there. If any readers are aware of legal aid possibilities for the detained refugees, please contact the Editors by email.
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