Nationality and refugees

The refugee condition is one that is intended to be temporary. Refugees flee when their primary, that is national, protection has failed and are accorded international protection through the grant of refugee status. This protection is intended to be replaced by a new national protection through integration in the country of refuge (through the grant of permanent residence leading to naturalisation), repatriation (which involves re-asserting effective citizenship in the home country), or resettlement (with naturalisation or permanent residence being offered in a third country). Too often, however, refugee situations in Africa become protracted, leaving refugees (and their children) in limbo for years or decades.

Refugees who are unable to return are often unable to access local integration in their country of refuge, in part due to onerous requirements for naturalisation. In addition to the general obstacles to naturalisation, refugees may face difficulties in accessing naturalisation procedures because of lack of knowledge or funds needed for the processing of applications, etc. In other cases, refugees may face political or cultural obstacles to naturalisation. Few countries in Africa have provided for naturalisation of long-term refugee populations, but one notable example is Tanzania’s grant of nationality to long-term refugees from Rwanda and Burundi.

Refugees may also face difficulties in reacquiring nationality or obtaining confirmation of nationality on returning home when it is possible to do so. For example, at least several hundred Liberian refugees (and their children) registered with UNHCR in West Africa were refused confirmation of Liberian citizenship when the Liberian refugee crisis was declared over in 2012.

Key Resources


"The Executive Committee […] affirms the particular importance […] of integration […] and, over time, the possibility of naturalising"

UNHCR EXCOM Conclusion on Local Integration No. 104 (LVI), 2005