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Statelessness to be eradicated in W/Africa in 8 years

May 11, 2017, 11:26 AM | Article By: Lamin Jahateh

If all goes as planned, statelessness should be eradicated in West Africa by the year 2024 as ECOWAS member states have adopted six concrete strategies to tackle the rising phenomenon.

ECOWAS ministers responsible for nationality issues on Tuesday adopted a Regional Plan of Action to Eradicate Statelessness in West Africa otherwise known as the Banjul Plan of Action, 2017 – 2024. 

The successful implementation of the plan would mean that the over 1 million statelessness people – people without nationality of any state – in West Africa would all have the requisite nationality documents and going forward on one would be stateless. 

The Banjul Plan of Action was adopted at the 2nd ministerial conference on statelessness in West Africa organised by the ECOWAS Commission with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

It was hosted by The Gambia government at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Kololi on 9 May 2017.

The ministerial conference was preceded by a two-day expert meeting on 7 and 8 May at the same venue during which experts from within and outside West Africa thoroughly reviewed the anti-statelessness plan to ready it for adoption by the ministers.

The adoption of the regional plan of action was in line with the Abidjan Declaration, the first sub-regional document adopted by all the 15 member states of ECOWAS as an explicit commitment to fight against statelessness. 

The declaration was adopted at the first ministerial conference on stateless in West Africa held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in February 2015.  

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volder Turk said the strong engagement of West African countries on the issue of statelessness underscores the increasing awareness of the extent and the causes of the problem of statelessness in the sub-region.

He said studies have identified that statelessness in West Africa is mainly caused by lack of legal safeguards in nationality laws, and administrative obstacles to accessing prove-of-nationality documentation. 

Statistics indicates that up to 30 per cent of people in the ECOWAS region do not have sufficient documentation proving their identity claim to a nationality.

“This problem will grow as long as there continues to be a high number of children born in the region who do not have access to birth certificates,” Mr Turk said. 

In West Africa and around the world, several nationality laws do not yet provide equal rights for women to pass their nationality on to their children, and some limit nationality on the basis of race or ethnicity. 

Therefore, the UNHCR assistant high commissioner said the reform of nationality laws and the establishment of legal guarantees to ensure that all children have a right to a nationality at birth are essential.

However, he noted the regional plan to eradicate statelessness in West Africa is “a unique and inspiring development”. 

Mr Turk said by adopting the regional plan – the first regional bloc to do so – ECOWAS has set an example not only for the rest of the continent, but for the world and the UNHCR would do whatever it can to support the sub-region in this regard.

Muhammed Ibn Chambas, special representative of the UN secretary general for West Africa and the Sahel, said the implementation of the plan of action should contribute to the eradication of the phenomenon of statelessness.

He said the action plan, when successfully implemented, should prevent statelessness and redeem millions of West Africans from being vulnerable to marginalised living, exploitation by criminal groups, risk of human trafficking and political and religious radicalisation. 

“It will enhance the stability of the state,” he said of the Banjul Plan of Action, adding that his office would support the international and regional efforts being undertaken to eradicate statelessness.

According to experts, the Banjul Plan of Action is based on the commitments and recommendations made in the Abidjan Declaration.

It entails support measures that ECOWAS and UNHCR can provide to member states, and also spells out mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the Abidjan Declaration.