By Ndidi Chukwu
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) and the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, Wednesday signed a memorandum of Understanding for a multi-sectorial co-operation to protect the rights of refugees, displaced persons and people seeking asylum in some West African states.
UNHCR’s representative to Nigeria, Angele Dikongue-Atangana in her keynote address said the partnership agreement will seek the promotion of refugee law, address root causes of refugee situations, and prevent displacement of persons as well as give early warnings of such crisis. Atangana said, “the current political and operational environment in the sub-region and its effect on ECOWAS member States and populations has made it imperative to strengthen the UNHCR and ECOWAS partnership and collaboration” she also added that it will help “define joint strategies and approaches in order to effectively address protection challenges faced in the sub-region”
“UNHCR and ECOWAS formalize their corporation into a frame work which will provide for the enhanced protection of refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees, IDPs, Stateless persons and those at risk of Statelessness in West Africa. The partnership will allow us to work together in ensuring proper interpretation and application of relevant international, regional and national legal and policy instruments” she explained.
“human rights protection in this era requires a collective approach for all states in West Africa, to particularly address the issues of abuses to these people, we have to improve on what has been done so far, to help these vulnerable people for the sake of humanity” said Justice Maria Do Ceu Silva Monteiro, Honourable Justice of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
She noted that the partnership will bring about implementations of already existing documents within the scope of the partnership, and will trigger commitment of all ECOWAS member states to protect the displaced persons and refugees in their own state. Also commenting on the issues of crisis management among West African States, General Secretary of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) Mr. Auwal Musa, said the issue of refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, internally displaced persons and the likes is one which requires “all hands on deck” to solve. He called for a comprehensive domestic and regional legal framework which will recognise the status and rights of people in need of protection and are based on a full and inclusive application of relevant international law and guiding principles.
“This is important for the West Africa citizens because it will result in a well-protected community in light of the process of regional integration that will transition the government to ECOWAS of the people” he said. In Nigeria alone, there are over 1.5 million estimated internally displaced persons (NEMA report), through the UNHCR, 452 Cameroonian refugees have been repatriated, 243 refugee children assisted with education allowance for second term academic year, 143 women and girls of reproductive age assisted with sanitary towels, and 28 refugees including those with special needs provided with subsistence and transport allowances.