West Africa: Ecowas, UNHCR Move to Protect Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Others in West Africa

Abuja — The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have expressed the need to foster mixed population flows in West Africa to ensure the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and other persons with specific needs.

The imperative for a conducive environment "to encourage youth to engage in meaningful activities that will provide self-employment" was stressed by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, who represented the commission's President during a two-day retreat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

According to her, this calls "for the development of relevant regional and country specific legal frameworks, high-level advocacy and sensitisation for the implementation of existing protection structures and the improvement of the general protection environment in the ECOWAS space."

Stressing the need to leverage member states' experiences, practices and interests to tackle the identified challenges, she added: "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."

UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa, Liz Ahua, noted: "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.

"People are using the same routes and modes of transportation to travel, but moving for different reasons.

"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."

She went on "Partnering has already yielded momentous results in particular, towards eradicating statelessness in the region.

"Collaboration is key to raising awareness and enhancing the protection of refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, victims of trafficking and those with specific needs while on the move within the region."

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