International, Regional and National Framework for protection of Refugees

International, Regional and National Framework for protection of Refugees 

International Human Rights Instruments

Refugees are first and foremost human beings and therefore should not be denied the basic human rights to every single person in various human rights instruments. Particularly important to refugees are the rights to non-discrimination, equality and survival and fortunately, the problems that they encounter generally reflect human rights concerns. A UNHCR document on human rights and refugee protection has established that:

International human rights law helps to protect refugees by setting standards that establish what might be considered persecution and by providing mechanisms to protect refugees and asylum seekers against refoulement and expulsion, arbitrary detention, threats to life and physical security, lack of shelter, food, education, or medical care, sexual abuse or separation from family members[1]

Thus, refugee protection and assistance is not only guaranteed by those specific instruments but also by human rights instruments. Since the focus of this study is on the protection of right of refugees.

Regional Framework

Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problem in Africa 1969

The 1969 convention otherwise currently known as the Africa union (au) convention is a regional legal instrument governing refugee protection in Africa. The convention acknowledges the refugee definition of the 1951 convention but expanded it to include people who are compelled to leave their country not only as a result of persecution but also owing to external aggression, occupation or foreign domination.[2]

The AU convention definition is therefore broader than the one contained in the 1951 convention because it looks beyond the geographic and temporal limits of the 1951 convention[3] and consequently more appropriate to the reality of the developing world. It also recognizes non state groups as perpetrators of persecution and does not require a refugee to show the link between him or her and the future danger.

It simply acknowledges that it is adequate for the refugee to consider the harm sufficient to force him or her to abandon his country of origin. This clause provides that the Convention shall cease to apply to any refugee who has committed a non-political crime outside his country of refugee after the admission to that country as a refugee.[4]

Consequently, refugees should be afforded a special place with regard to international and regional human rights instruments. More specifically they should not face certain provisions in human rights instruments and particularly those relating to socio economic rights. In addition to international and regional refugee convention, international human rights law and international humanitarian law play a significant role in guaranteeing international protection of refugees. 

Nigerian Framework for the Protection of Refugees

There is no country in the world without refugees. Either a country may be a refugee producing or a refugee receiving country or sometimes both. In Nigeria, the major legal and institutional framework for the protection of refugees is the National Commission for Refugees (NCR).

The Commission was established by Decree 52 of 1989 now known as the National Commission for Refugees, etc. Act Cap N21 Laws of the Federation 2004. The Commission was created with a view to protecting and safeguarding the interests of refugees in Nigeria. By virtue of section 3 (1)[5]of the NCFR Act, the Commission is to operate under the supervision of the Secretary to the Federal Government.

The Commission shall be constituted by a Chairman who shall be appointed by the President, a representative of the Secretary to the Federal Government as Vice Chairman, the Federal Commissioner for Refugees or his representative, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or his representative, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or his representative and the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria as observer to be invited by the Commission from time to time to the meetings of the Commission where the matters to be deliberated upon have international dimensions.

Consistent with the internationally accepted meaning of the term, as reflected in the above mentioned Conventions, section 20 (1) of the NCFR Act declares that a person shall be considered a refugee if he falls within the definition provided by:[6]

  1. c) Article 1 of the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

Thus in Nigeria, a person is considered a refugee, who owing to a well-founded fear of persecution, colonial rule, or foreign occupation, or events seriously disturbing public order, covering a wide variety of man-made conditions which do not permit humans to reside safely in their countries of origin or nationality, and have to seek refuge in Nigeria, including also civil wars or armed conflicts, as well as due to the conditions of famine and natural catastrophes.

However, a person shall not be considered to be a refugee under Nigerian Law in the following circumstances:

  1. a) When there are serious reasons to believe that he or she has committed a crime against humanity, as defined in any international instrument to which Nigeria is a party and which has been drawn up to make provisions in respect of such crimes; or he has committed a serious non-political crime outside Nigeria prior to his entry;
  2. b) He has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the Organization of African Unity.[7]

For this purpose, the function of the Commission under the law is to, among other things:

  1. a) Lay down general guidelines and overall policy on general issues relating to refugees and persons seeking asylum in Nigeria;
  2. b) Advice the Federal Government on policy matters in relation to refugees in Nigeria;
  3. c) Consider such matters as the Secretary to the Federal Government may, from time to time, refer to it and make recommendations thereon to the Secretary to the Federal Government, responsible for supervising the Commission;
  4. d) Advice the Federal Government on appropriate measures to be taken, including the provision of adequate facilities and services necessary for the care of refugees affected by large scale influx.[8]


[1] UNHCR at 50: what future for refugee protection available at: (accessed: 22 May 2019) 2

[2] OAU (AU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects on Refugee Problems in Africa 1969

[3] The convention enable states to make a declaration when becoming a party, according to which the words events occurring before the 1 January 1951 are understood to mean event only occurring in Europe. This geographical limitation has been removed with the adoption of the 1969 convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa available at:<>  (accessed: 17 May 2019)

[4] Art 1(4)(f) of the 1969 convention

[5] The establishment section

[6] Set out in the First, Second and Third Schedules to Cap. N21 LFN 2004

  1. a) Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees;
  2. b) Article 1 of the 1967 UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

[7] Now African Union (AU), See section 20 (2) of NCFR Act and Article 5 (c) of the OAU Convention

[8] Ibid section 4 (1) and (4)

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