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We will protect the rights and obligations of refugees in Nigeria – UNHCR

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We will protect the rights and obligations of refugees in Nigeria – UNHCR

By Busayo Onijala

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it will do everything possible to protect the rights and obligations of refugees in Nigeria.

Mr. John McKissick, UNHCR’s Deputy Representative, made this known in Lagos at a symposium held to commemorate 70 years of the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees.

The Nigerian News Agency (NAN) reports that the Refugee Convention protects the rights of people who have been forced to flee their country or who cannot return due to various circumstances.

The Refugee Convention also requires states parties to protect the rights of people seeking international protection, even if they cross borders irregularly.

According to McKissick, a refugee cannot be penalized for entering a country on a regular basis.

He said the only obligation a refugee had after entering a country was to contact the government and seek asylum.

This, he said, should be done without delay, in order to get the ball rolling.

McKissick said Nigeria has talented lawyers to represent refugees and protect them in court.

According to him, there is room for the development of international refugee law, even in Nigeria, to make the country a model of refugee protection not only in Africa but around the world.

He mentioned that due to the unstable security situation in the northeast, IDPs in particular have not been able to stay in their homes, reintegrate and become prosperous members of their communities.

McKissick further applauded the Lagos State government for welcoming refugees to his town.

“Lagos has the largest number of urban refugees in Nigeria, with over 3,000 who have been recognized by the government.

“We have 2,000 asylum seekers in Nigeria and over 1,600 are in Lagos.

“These refugees come to Lagos for economic reasons and they can start trades and find a job in order to be self-sufficient,” he said.

Ms Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), said the Refugee Convention remained the main basic regulatory instrument for the international protection of refugees.

Without it, she said, other regional and national instruments on refugee protection would be non-existent.

Sulaiman-Ibrahim, represented by Stephen Medaiyedu, said the commission will continue to support and promote initiatives that have a positive impact on people of concern.

According to her, the three traditional durable solutions to the global refugee problems of voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement have achieved remarkable success.

She said countries of origin had witnessed successful voluntary returns of displaced citizens from countries of asylum in safety and dignity.

“As part of the local solution strategy in Nigeria, the federal government abolished the encampment policy, therefore the refugees are either in transit camps or living in host communities.

“This is in line with the principles of the Global Compact for Refugees on burden sharing,” she said.

She noted that there were challenges with the implementation of the Convention by States, however, they were not insurmountable.

She added that Nigeria has been at the forefront of implementing digital approaches to address the issues that cause forced displacement.

This, she said, was being done through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

“Nigeria will remain strongly committed and ready to continue to partner firmly with UNHCR to protect those forced to flee,” she said.

In addition, Mr. Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, urged civil society organizations (CSOs) to assume the mission of protecting the rights of refugees.

“Unless we are prepared to do so, it will be difficult for us as citizens to contribute to the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of Refugees.

“We have around 73,000 refugees, which is infinitesimal compared to the country’s large population.

“When it comes to Nigeria’s position in the region and across the African continent, we must show leadership and be the keeper of our brothers,” Falana said. (NAA)

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