Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law generally provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to draft and pass a comprehensive refugee law, ensuring refugees’ right to health, education, and the right to work. The National Assembly adopted the refugee law on December 26.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. Refugees had limited legal protections since there were no permanent courts within the camps or in neighboring communities.
Refugees, however, reported abuse and attacks to the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Populations Affected by Disaster (ONARS) and UNHCR. With the support of the local National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), mobile courts traveled to the largest camp, Ali Addeh, to hear the backlog of pending cases. During the year UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. Cases of domestic violence were reported, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.
The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission was supposed to determine their status. The commission did not sit during the year until July 24. More than 8,042 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.
In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the north remained under military control.
Foreign Travel: Opposition members reported immigration officials prevented them from boarding international flights.
For example, on August 9, gendarmes stopped Union for National Salvation (USN) Secretary General Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh at the entrance of the Ambouli airport, preventing him from boarding his international flight. Government officials stated Guelleh could not leave the country until his case concerning alleged involvement in the December 2015 incident was closed. He remained released on probation. On July 12, the Supreme Court dismissed Guelleh’s case, but the state prosecutor overturned the decision. Guelleh’s case remained pending.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen are, prima facie, considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. All other asylum claims must be reviewed by the National Eligibility Commission, which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries; UNHCR participates as an observer.
According to UNHCR the country hosted more than 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, in two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh. An additional estimated 4,800 individuals from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other nations lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in August and September, the country permitted more than 5,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia, to register as asylum seekers.
In the past most new Somali refugees arrived at the Ali Addeh camp, which reached maximum capacity several years previously. To reduce congestion, in 2012 UNHCR and ONARS reopened a second camp at Holl-Holl. UNHCR and ONARS completed a validation census of refugees in camps and in Djibouti City in January and identified those who arrived after 2009 for voluntary relocation to the new camp.
The country also hosted refugees fleeing violence in Yemen starting in March 2015. ONARS and UNHCR registered approximately 6,000 refugees from Yemen, at least 2,800 of whom lived in a refugee camp in the northern region of Obock.
Organizational difficulties and resource constraints prevented ONARS and UNHCR from providing adequate services to refugees in all camps and in Djibouti City, including the prompt processing of asylum claims.
Due to the unresolved conflict begun in 2008 between Djibouti and Eritrea and the mandatory military conscription policy of the Eritrean government, the government considered Eritrean detainees as deserters from the Eritrean military rather than refugees. Beginning in 2011, however, the government allowed UNHCR to screen and resettle more than 200 Eritrean detainees imprisoned at Nagad in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 2014 authorities released the 266 remaining Eritreans from Nagad and placed them in the Ali Addeh refugee camp. During the year the government continued to facilitate resettlement of this group. The government agreed to release 18 Eritrean detainees if the ICRC could resettle them to a third country. By year’s end the ICRC had not found a third country for resettlement of the 18 detainees.
Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in March 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened. In 2014 two suicide bombers from Somalia attacked La Chaumiere restaurant in Djibouti’s city center, killing one victim and severely injuring others. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for this attack. After the attack, authorities closed the border with Somalia to refugees and stopped new registration and refugee status determination processes. Although the border remained officially closed during 2015, UNHCR reported the government allowed new arrivals into the country. The government also resumed the refugee status determination process in June 2015, hosting several sessions of the National Eligibility Commission each month thereafter.
Because of the presidential election and subsequent cabinet reshuffle, the National Eligibility Commission did not conduct interviews during the year until July 24. The Ministry of Interior-led commission met monthly from July to year’s end to reduce the backlog.
Because of resource constraints and limited capacity, the government did not proactively screen irregular migrants to determine if they were trafficking victims before returning them to their home countries.
Most of these cases involved Ethiopian nationals, whom government officials often identified as economic migrants. The government, working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), continued its efforts to differentiate refugees from irregular migrants. A lack of staff and other resources, however, impeded accurate vetting, particularly in light of the large number of irregular migrants transiting the country to Yemen and migrants deported from Yemen to Djibouti.
Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Documented refugees were allowed to work with a work permit, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. There was little recourse to challenge working conditions or ensure fair payment for labor.
Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government continued to issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps. ONARS and UNHCR completed a refugee verification exercise in January 2015, which allowed ONARS and UNHCR officials to issue identification cards to all refugees older than 15 years in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps and in Djibouti City. UNHCR and ONARS resumed resettlement activities in 2015, which had been on hold since 2012.
ONARS and UNHCR established the Markazi refugee camp in May 2015 after Yemenis began arriving in Djibouti following the eruption of violence in Yemen. The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.
For the first time, the government agreed to create a new Ministry of Education-recognized English curriculum for the 2017-18 academic year for more than 12,000 refugee children in the refugee camps. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities.
Refugees in the Markazi camp had access to instruction based on a Yemeni and Saudi curriculum taught in Arabic.
Durable Solutions: In conjunction with IOM, the government continued to support vocational training for young refugees. These training programs have resulted in a small number of refugees finding local employment.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed irregular migrants identified as economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. IOM and the Ministry of Health have a Memorandum of Understanding permitting IOM to provide health supplies to hospitals in the “migration corridor” in Northern Djibouti, as well as enabling the ministry to have a health unit in IOM’s Migration Resource Center in Obock.