By Lizzy Okoji
Banjul – Mrs Liz Ahua, the Regional Representative, UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has described ECOWAS as a global pacesetter for its progress towards eradicating statelessness in the West Africa sub-region.
Ahua said on Sunday in Banjul at the opening of a three-day ministerial meeting on the adoption of the Regional Plan of Action to Eradicate Statelessness in West Africa.
She noted that since the adoption of the Abidjan Declaration in February 2015, ECOWAS member states had made significant commitments and progress which could not be over-emphasised in the drive to combat statelessness in sub-region.
“The progress made since Abidjan has been significant and it is without hesitation that I can say this region is setting an example, not only for the continent, but for the world.
“Three member states have newly acceded to the 1954 and 1961 international statelessness conventions; 12 member states have developed National Action Plans to end Statelessnes.
“Three officially adopted the declaration, including one at presidential level.
“Reforms of national legislation are under way in seven countries.’’
Ahua said that notwithstanding the progress and success made so far, a lot more needed to be done to achieve the UN global target of eradicating statelessness by 2024.
According to her, statistics have shown that while over one million persons are stateless in West Africa, 60 million people lack documentation proving their identity or nationality.
Statelessness, she explained, had considerable cost in terms of human rights, security, socio-economic development, marginalization of communities and their exclusion from mainstream society.
She said it was in consideration of these costs that the UNHCR and ECOWAS earlier organised a meeting of stakeholders and experts to work together on the next critical step in the fight to eradicate statelessness in West Africa.
Also speaking, Dr Fatimata Dia Sow, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, said that eradicating Statelessness was in tandem with one of the ECOWAS visions to foster regional integration.
Dia Sow said that since the Adoption of the Abidjan Declaration, ECOWAS, with the support of UNHCR, had focused on addressing the root causes of statelessness and had defined the way forward toward eradicating it.
She noted that millions of stateless persons across the world had been denied their fundamental human rights for several reasons, including gaps in nationality laws, administrative practices and unwritten discriminatory laws.
“Today, we are here to take concrete actions against these wrongs by validating this Regional Plan of action in order to achieve the target of the declaration in eradicating statelessness by 2024.
“The Regional Plan of Action for Validation entails six strategic support measures that ECOWAS and UNHCR can provide to member states.
“It Includes measures that ECOWAS will adopt to follow up on the commitments made by member states in the Abidjan Declaration and it spells out mechanisms for monitoring and implementation,’’ she said.
In his remark, Mr Mai Fatty, the Gambian Minister of Interior, noted that statelessness is a collective problem in West Africa that required collective commitments and solution from member states.
Fatty said that the government of the Gambia was resolutely engaged in the fight against statelessness in the country and had adopted a National Action Plan to end the problem.
According to him, a West Africa without statelessness, will be stronger and more stable.