By Rohey Jadama & Fatoumatta K.Jallow
The Honorable Minister of Interior Mr. Ahmad Mai, Fatty has said that West Africa without statelessness will be stronger and more stable. He said this will create a path for growth and prosperity.
“The Gambia promotes inclusion, not exclusion. Statelessness leads to marginalization and exclusion. Therefore, we are resolutely engaged in the fight against statelessness. The Gambia has adopted a national action plan to end statelessness. We have started education campaign for our populations to better understand statelessness”, he said
Mr. Fatty, made those remarks yesterday 7 May, 2017 at the official opening ceremony of a three days Regional Expert meeting on the validation and adoption of the regional plan of action to eradicate statelessness in West Africa.
The meeting organized at a local hotel brought together government officials from the fifteen member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), representatives of ECOWAS, UNHCR and international technical experts to review the draft plan of action and come up with a final and concrete set of measures to end statelessness in the ECOWAS region by 2024.
ECOWAS and UNHCR are working closely towards achieving the expected outcome of the Abidjan Declaration which I to eradicate statelessness. 10 million people around the world are denied a nationality and 1 million stateless persons live in West Africa.
It could be recalled that On February 25, 2015, ECOWAS Ministers of Internal Affairs and Justice gathered in Abidjan to address statelessness that affects the ECOWAS region. This resulted to the adoption of 62 recommendations to end statelessness and the adoption of a 26 point ministerial declaration now referred to as the Abidjan Declaration.
According to the interior ministers, they must be true to their commitment; West Africa can become the first region in Africa and the world to adopt such a plan of Action.
“Statelessness is an issue that holds us back in many ways. We have been living with it and we have been enduring it for many years, without necessarily understanding tits causes and implications. We feel home wherever we go in West Africa. This feeling of oneness often made us forget our nationalities and what the laws say about them”, he said.
He added that in modern, nationality matter adding that legislation provide rules for the attribution of nationality. However, he went on these rules are not known to most of the people and they differ from one country to another.
“A child born in an ECOWAS state, to parents originating from another ECOWAS state, can be born without any nationality. Weakness in laws and administrative policies governing access to our civil status documents add to the challenges. These challenges are common to every member states”, said the Interior Minister.
According to Mr. Fatty, a collective problem always calls for collective solution and ECOWAS is an institutional and legal framework to solve our common problems and that statelessness is a common problem.
For her part, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow, said the fight against statelessness requires unprecedented cooperation by the international community.
She said statelessness has come a long way on the agenda of their regional goal and now it has been taken away from the shadows to the spotlight.
“Statelessness, like many other human rights violations is often rooted in discriminatory beliefs and practices. Everyone has a right to belong and the right to nationality. However, millions around the world have been denied these rights ranging from children, women and men for diverse reasons which include gaps in nationality laws and administrative practices which may create problems”, said the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender.
“As the UN Agency mandated by the UN General Assembly to prevent and reduce statelessness around the world, as well as to protect the rights of stateless people, we remain committed to supporting the west African states and the region in the fight against statelessness”, said Ms. Liz Kpam Ahua, the UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa Regional Refugee Coordinator for the Nigeria Situation.
According to Ms. Ahua, statistics show that over one million persons in West Africa are stateless, while 60 million people lack documentation proving their identity or nationality.
She reaffirmed UNHCR’s commitment to supporting the efforts of the African Union, ECOWAS and its member states in eradicating statelessness so that by 2024 every person in ECOWAS space can say “I belong”.