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Strengthening protection and solutions for refugees and asylum seekers in west Africa is critical in response to mixed population flows, say ECOWAS and UNHCR
L-R Ms Ahua, Amb Nurudeen, SSG Ekuwem, Commissioner jAGNE, and UNHRC Rep to Nigeria Mr. Antonio Canhandula

Uyo, Nigeria, 16th April, 2019

The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and relevant stakeholders have discussed mixed population flows in West Africa and steps to ensure the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and other persons with specific needs who are part of these flows.


Opening the two-day retreat of the ECOWAS’ Ambassadors, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, representing ECOWAS Commission President, stressed the imperative for a conducive environment “to encourage youth to engage in meaningful activities that will provide self-employment”.


According to Dr. Jagne, this calls “for the development of relevant regional and country specific legal frameworks, high level advocacy and sensitization for the implementation of existing protection frameworks and the improvement of the general protection environment in the ECOWAS space”.


Stressing the need to leverage Member States’ experience, practice and interests in order to create avenues to tackle the challenges identified, “this is a timely call given the challenges we face concerning the movement of our citizens to Europe and other climes in search of what they perceive as the Golden Fleece,” she added.


“Mixed migration is a complex phenomenon because of the multiplicity of factors driving the movements and the different needs and profiles of the persons involved,” said Liz Ahua, UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa. “People are using the same routes and modes of transportation to travel, but moving for different reasons,” she said.

Ambassadors group photo
Group photograph of all participants

“Never, in the relationship between ECOWAS and UNHCR, have we been confronted by challenges so immense and diverse as the growing crises, that are in every respect unlike anything we have seen before”, said Liz Ahua. “Partnering has already yielded momentous results, in particular towards eradicating statelessness in the region,” she said, adding that “collaboration is key to raise awareness and enhance the protection of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, victims of trafficking and those with specific needs while on the move within the region”.


The existing framework of cooperation which is anchored on three Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the ECOWAS Commission, Parliament as well as ECOWAS Court of Justice, also attending the retreat, is expected to be strengthened as the Ambassadors take stock of progress made, identify challenges and shape the response to mixed flows in West Africa.


“The Global Compact on Refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) are providing new ways of working towards lasting solutions for those forcefully displaced,” said Ms Ahua, highlighting ECOWAS constant commitment vis-à-vis refugees and persons of concern.

The Permanent Representative of Nigeria to ECOWAS and Chair of the Permanent Representatives’ Committee, Ambassador Babatunde Nurudeen underscored that the mixed flows within the region result from socio-political upheaval, which include, among others, refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, unaccompanied minors, environmental migrants, smuggled persons, victims of trafficking.


Ambassador Nurudeen stressed that the retreat provides an opportunity to strategize and come up with lasting and durable solutions to mitigate the consequences of forced displacement.


“The issues of statelessness, refugee protection, forcible displacement and mixed flows pose cross-cutting challenges, which we must recognize to identify and operationalise durable solutions,” said Frantz Celestin, Chief of Mission for IOM, the UN Migration Agency. He stressed on the centrality of protection, which reaffirms that “the protection of all affected and at-risk individuals and communities must inform decision making and response.”


“IOM will continue to support UNHCR by enshrining the protection component across our programming, especially at a time when sudden and mass displacement brings compounded challenges to the dignity and wellbeing of people on the move,” he added.


Representing the governor of Akwa Ibom State, the Secretary to the State Government Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem said that “governments across board must put in place policies to discourage our youth from taking mindless risks in the hope of securing a better economic future elsewhere”, advocating for factors that cause displacement to be tackled holistically.


At the end of the retreat, participants also issued recommendations to strengthen the commitment to fight statelessness and find lasting solutions for forced displacement in the region.

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