Migration: UNHCR, ECOWAS seek way out of crisis in West Africa

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Economic Commission of West Africa States (ECOWAS) have called for urgent need to tackle migration crisis affecting the sub-region and protection of persons of concern.

Both organisations made the call during the opening of the fourth ECOWAS Ambassadors’ retreat on Monday in Uyo with the theme: “Mixed Population flows and durable solutions in the ECOWAS Region”.

The retreat brought together stakeholders and ECOWAS Ambassadors representing Member States to discuss the phenomenon of mixed movement within the sub-region.

The retreat also aims at deliberating on important regional issues and to advocate for the implementation of relevant policies in Member States.

Mrs Liz Ahua, UNHCR’s Regional Representative, said that displaced persons in the West Africa sub region presents a new challenge that would only be resolved by a joint action of all.

She said that West African countries host a growing numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) with Nigeria hosting the largest population of IDPs in the sub-region and Burkina Faso becoming a new theatre of displacement.

Ahua said that finding solutions for persons forcibly displaced including refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and stateless persons remains the priority of the UNHCR.

She disclosed that UNHCR has established an Emergency Evacuation Mechanism through which a sizable number of refugees are transported from Libya to Niger to be resettled.

“These challenging times continue to test our resolve, threaten progresses made but I am sure that together we can rise up to the challenges, resolve conflicts and secure an enduring peace for greater good.

“The UNHCR-ECOWAS Ambassadors’ retreat has been and remains a suitable avenue to take stock of progress and to shape a better future.

“Since its inception twelve years ago, this retreat has been one of the foremost regional initiative in the achievement of UNHCR-ECOWAS partnership outcome and it is central in promoting UNHCR’s mandate.

“It has been actively instrumental in advocating at a political level, for the protection of displaced persons and other affected populations, raising awareness of UNHCR’s work.

“And ensuring the commitment of Member States to the protection of displaced persons.

“Variety of ongoing discussions on internal displacement, aimed at domesticating the Kampala Convention is an encouraging sign.

“I envisage these discussions will contribute in great measure to better alignment of national legal frameworks and both regional and global standards”, Ahua said.

Also speaking, Mr Jean Kassi Brou, President, ECOWAS Commission, said that the theme of the 2019 retreat was apt given the challenges facing the sub-region with the movement of its citizens to Europe.

Brou, who was represented by Siga Jagne, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, said the perilous journeys embarked on by ECOWAS citizens have resulted in the loss of lives and their enslavement.

He said that the migrant crisis was a challenge which member states must take seriously, confront and provide an encouraging environment to encourage youths to engage in meaningful activities in their home countries.

“This calls for the development of a relevant regional and country specific legal frameworks, high level advocacy and sensitisation for the implementation of existing protection related frameworks.

“The improvement of the general protection environment in the ECOWAS space.

“The ECOWAS Commission is committed to assisting Member States through our partnership with the UNHCR to accede to, and implement relevant legal instruments, provide durable solutions to persons of concern.

“We need to accompany them with programmes and activities that will ensure the enhancement of their coping capacities for resilience.

“We are proud to note that today, our effort at assisting Member States sign, ratify and implement the Kampala Convention is yielding positive result as Niger has completed the process and domesticated,” Brou said.

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