ABUJA (Reuters) – The last refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone in Nigeria have been allowed to settle and they will have access to work, education and health on the same terms as Nigerians, West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Tuesday.
The 7,292 refugees, who fled the long civil wars in their countries at different times, had opted against going home under a voluntary repatriation scheme which ended in December 2004 for Sierra Leoneans and in June 2007 for Liberians.
Over 4,000 of them have been living in a refugee camp run by the Nigerian authorities at Oru, in southwestern Ogun state, while the others are scattered around the Nigerian commercial capital Lagos where they have “urban refugee” status.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it had signed an agreement with Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to allow the refugees to settle in Nigeria.
The deal, signed on Monday, requires Liberia and Sierra Leone to provide passports to their nationals, who will lose their refugee status and become entitled to a series of rights guaranteed by agreements between ECOWAS members.
“The host government will ensure they enjoy the entitlements of ECOWAS citizenship, including the right to work, access to education and health on the same terms as Nigerians,” the regional bloc said in a statement.
The refugees are 5,619 Liberians and 1,673 Sierra Leoneans.
Liberia’s 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003, killed an estimated 200,000 people and drove a million — about a third of the population — from their homes.
Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war killed an estimated 50,000 people in a country that now has more than 6 million.
Both countries are at peace but remain desperately poor with collapsed infrastructure and few services. Sierra Leone was second from bottom in the 2006 U.N. Human Development Index.