17th April 2019. Ambassadors accredited to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have urged a redoubling of efforts to operationalise existing regional and international legal standards and policy framework in order to effectively protect refugees in the region within the context of Mixed Flows.
The ambassadors at the end of their Two-Day retreat on the 16th of April in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria also recommended the inclusion of refugee protection (as a theme) in the Migration Dialogue for West Africa (MIDWA) process while alternative legal pathways such as student visas, humanitarian visas, seasonal workers schemes and family reunification should be strengthened and promoted with other regions.
Encouraging the engagement of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC) for advocacy, sensitization and promotion of good governance, the Ambassadors called for the swift adoption of the ECOWAS Regional Migration Policy with corresponding Plans of Action including the implementation of the recommendations of the Symposium on Asylum and Migration held in Dakar in December 2017. They further called for the strengthening of sensitization and awareness campaigns with the support of civil society actors and host communities, targeting in particular the youth.
The 16-point communique of the Ambassadors also dwelled on durable solution to the issues of Mixed Flows and Statelessness.
They recommended among others that the ECOWAS Permanent Representatives/National Offices should be part of the efforts to sensitize and raise awareness of Member States on ECOWAS protocols on free movement of persons, residence and establishment and migration policies to the benefit of refugees.
In this regard, they called for the inclusion of refugees into Member States’ development scheme/plans while Member States to regularly undertake needs assessments and improve data collection on refugees to better inform the search for solutions. Related to this, is the promotion of awareness on refugee issues, operationalization of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) as well as the mobilization of efforts of all relevant stakeholders to achieve comprehensive responses.
Importantly, the Ambassadors also requested Member States to support self-reliant solutions through the ECOWAS stability fund, Diaspora citizens network and private sector funding initiatives such as the multipartite agreement towards local integration of refugees signed by Nigeria, Sierra-Leone, Liberia, ECOWAS and UNHCR which should be replicated as best practices.
On the vexed issue of statelessness, it was agreed that the Permanent Representatives will further discuss ratification of the Statelessness Conventions at Ambassadorial level, with a view to making recommendations to the ECOWAS Council of Ministers for inclusion as an agenda item for the Summit of Heads of State and Government.
Officials of UNHCR and ECOWAS provided a general overview of the issue of statelessness, its root causes and progress made so far with reference to the adoption of the Abidjan Declaration and Banjul Plan of Action as key milestones towards the eradication of statelessness in the ECOWAS region.
The Ambassadors noted that in the spirit of actualization of the vision 2020 of ECOWAS, Member States should in conjunction with ECOWAS “take the lead in implementing the Protocols dealing with identification, including the issuance of ECOWAS cards and ECOWAS Passports”.
In this regard, Member States are encouraged to harmonize civil registration systems while prioritizing sensitization to ensure that citizens understand the importance of birth registration and documentation.
The Ambassadors also recommended the initiation, by Member States of discussions on the issue of statelessness at national levels that can be facilitated by the UNHCR and ECOWAS Commission.
By an agreement of delegates, ECOWAS was requested to draft a Model Law on Statelessness in accordance with the Banjul Plan of Action on the Eradication of Statelessness 2017-2024.
Ambassadors and High Commissioners of the fourteen ECOWAS Member States in attendance, gave status reports on their country’s respective levels of ratification, domestication and implementation of legal instruments relating to the protection of Refugees, IDPs and Stateless persons.