Refugee rights in West Africa example for region
While reform of migration policy in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is quite slow, the treatment of refugees within this region has demonstrated signs of progress that are an inspiration to other African countries:
“Studies on the problem confirm that at mid-2007 there were no less than 270, 000 refugees in the West African region, with most of them fleeing civil wars in Liberia (120, 000) and Sierra Leone (19, 000); that they are located in refugee camps or dispersed in local communities and urban centers; and that although all these individuals have been accorded the recognition by their host governments as ECOWAS citizens, toleration or acceptance of their residence is largely predicated on the legal fact of them being refugees. Fuller implementation of the ECOWAS Protocols covering issues of permanent residence [Phase II] will grant the citizens of all Member States, including refugees willing and able to work, the right to a secure residence and to appropriately engage in work for decent living.
“Among the seven countries where refugees in the region are currently most concentrated (Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria), there is the general understanding that although the ECOWAS Protocols are not refugee instruments those protocols are not in conflict with the refugee instruments and so can be applied to serve the immediate and long term interests of those so affected. The ECOWAS has consistently made the same argument, that along with other Community citizens, refugees are to be granted equal treatment and protection under the free movement protocols. Indeed, the ECOWAS Treaty seeks to promote much more than economic integration; its broader objectives include responsibilities for humanitarian intervention, maintenance of peace and security through good neighborliness, and promotion of human and peoples' rights. Thus conceived, the Treaty and the Protocols are in harmony with the refugee instruments as defined in the 1951 Convention relating to refugees; and the regional Organization of African Union (now African Union) Convention governing the specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa.
“Looking beyond characteristic problems and going forward, there is evidence of glacial change of attitude toward refugees in the region: First, the gradual consolidation of peace through post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and improved economic performance in many ECOWAS countries are beginning to create a new receptivity among Member States to the integration of refugees in host countries. Second, the growing desire for the benefits of integration and the reciprocal quality of entitlements under the free movement protocols are additional factors arguing in favor of tolerance for refugees and the necessity of providing for their benefits. Third, both the ECOWAS and the UNHCR have convinced Member States to find a fit in their national development plans for refugees such that now host countries are conducting an inventory of their domestic economic needs and tapping into available refugees' skills and channel same toward advancing their national development strategies. Fourth, there seems to be a growing interest among other regional organizations on the continent to examine what is currently going on in West Africa — countries outside the region (in Southern Africa and in East Africa) are assessing the applicability of similar local integration initiatives to their own local labor mobility arrangements and requirements.”
The increasingly free flow of refugees across borders in the ECOWAS zone has strongly positive implications for the situation of refugees in general in Africa. The freer the flow of migration in general, the more easily refugee populations will be able to escape conflict zones and arrive in safe locations. At the same time, integrating these refugees into host societies is a stronger challenge, though attitudes in general toward refugees are showing signs of "glacial"-paced improvement.
Sources:West Africa Insight, Centre for Democracy and Development, Vol 1, No 9, September 2010, page 5.