By Lizzy Okoji
With 70.8 million people now displaced around the World according to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World is now currently witnessing the highest level of displacement on record.
Representing almost one per cent of the World’s 7.7 billion population, the 70.8 million people who have been forcibly displaced across the World in recent years, have become a source of concern to the AU and the UN.
The report also reveals that of the number, 41.3 million are Internally Displaced, 25.9 million as refugees while 3.5 million of them are asylum seekers in several countries across the world.
Due to incessant crisis in so many countries leading to forced displacement, the African Union (AU) chose as its priority theme for 2019, “Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons:
Towards Durable Solutions for Forced Displacement in Africa”.
The UNHCR aligns its theme for the 2019 World Refugee Day (WRD) #StepWithRefugees in line with the overarching priority theme of the AU.
Mr Jose Anthonio Canhandula, Country Representative, UNHCR Nigeria said that in commemoration of the 2019 WRD, UNHCR Nigeria was seeking better approaches to finding durable solutions the plights of refugees.
He said that commemorating the 2019 WRD, UNHCR was bringing to the mind of the Nigerian government and its citizen that the displacement situation in Nigerian was a major one and displace persons require solidarity and support.
He explained that Nigeria was host to over 2.2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria with over 35,000 Cameroonian refugees and over 10,000 other refugees and asylum seekers from Central Africa Republic, Syria and Turkey.
Canhandula said that there are over 200,000 Nigerians living as refugees in neighboring countries; in Niger, 112,000, with additional 20,000 refugees from the recent crisis in Zamfara and Sokoto States.
He said that 96,000 Nigerian Refugees are in Cameroon, out of which 46,000 in camps while others are spread across in host communities and villages and Chad also hosts16,000 Nigerian refugees.
Describing the situation as a dire one, he said that UNHCR has been supporting the governments of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad in addressing the challenges of displaced persons but now was the time for a more effective approach towards durable solutions.
“Nigeria requires a new approach which is a shift from humanitarian assistance to empowering refugees and IDPs so that they can become self reliant.
“The new approach also goes beyond self reliance to a Comprehensive Refugee Response Plan where displaced persons could also contribute to the economy of the country he or she was seeking asylum.
“With its WRD commemoration activities, UNHCR Nigeria is asking people to take a step with refugees to show solidarity and help the organization demonstrate the impact of the Global Compact on Refugees.
“In this regards, UNHCR calls on governments and partners to find durable solutions to forced displacement in Nigeria and Africa, and to assist the leadership of African Member States.
“In ensuring the ratification and adoption of pivotal Africa and Global instruments namely the Kampala Conventions on IDPs and the OAU Convention on Refugees.
“And the Global Compact on Refugees and on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”, Canhandula said.
Canhandula said that in Nigeria, the 2019 WRD will provide an advocacy platform to discuss durable solutions to forced displacement of refugees and IDPs and the need for their protection and support.
Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo reiterated the commitments of the Federal Government to responsive, accountable degree of services and assured refugees of the security of their lives.
Osibanjo said that the Nigerian government will work towards ensuring durable solutions to refugees and IDPs plights as it continues to stand in solidarity with them.
He said that WRD was an opportunity to celebrate the strength and courage of refugees and IDPs who were seeking for a safe haven; and the government would continue to stand with them in the face of tribulations.
Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) called for an urgent need to adequately respond to the huge challenges of displaced persons.
Farouq explained that the needs of the refugees has far outweighed the assistance offered so far which means that a different approach was required to tackle the challenges emanating from the refugees situation in Nigeria.
She appealed to the UN, European Union, AU, ECOWAS, stakeholders and the private sector to step up their interventions in crisis management, especially in hot spots and volatile zones of the world.
Farouq said that in line with its durable solutions plans, NCFRMI in collaboration with UNHCR had commenced the process of issuing refugee Convention Travel Documents (CTDs) to refugees, adding that 178 of them had been referred to Nigeria Immigration Service for bio-metric capturing.
She commended the commitments of President Muhammadu Buhari in handing the plights of Refugees which includes the approval of the voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon.
She listed other durable solution commitments of President Buhari to include, approval for issuing the refugee convention travel document and enrolment of refugees into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Commission reiterated commitments in making policies that would encompass durable solutions to refugees’ plights.
Dr Sintiki Ugbe, Commissioner, Social Affairs and Gender, ECOWAS Commission said the Commission has been working with member states and partners in providing sound legal instruments.
She said that the legal frameworks and instruments seek to prevent, manage and mitigate the effects of displacement within the region.
Ugbe also said the commission had been responding to issues of displacements through donations and provision of food and non-food items to affected populations in the region.
She said that the Commission would support member states by developing strategies and policies on best actions to take to address the phenomenon.
This year coincides with the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 1969 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention and the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the 2009 AU Convention for the protection of IDPs (Kampala Convention).
This however drums a reminder for the Nigerian government to ratify and implement these instruments which would help in protecting refugees and IDPs and most importantly ensure durable solutions to their needs.