Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) has warned that countries in the West African region are at the risk of having the security of lives and properties of their citizens compromised by about 750,000 stateless persons that currently live unregistered within them.
The forum stated that because such stateless persons could become soft targets of terrorist groups like the Boko Haram and others, they could be used as mercenaries to perpetrate terrorist acts in countries across the region.
According to a statement from the Acting General Secretary WACSOF, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) in Abuja, with support from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), Nigeria will through the forum launch a project aimed at reducing the risk of statelessness in the country.
The project, according to Rafsanjani, will leverage on Nigeria’s status in the region to use research, advocacy and empowerment of national authorities, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to push for a better approach to the issues of statelessness.
He said through evidenced based advocacy and multi stakeholder sensitisation, the project will build up efforts to reduce the risks and situations of statelessness in Nigeria.
Rafsanjani explained that with the partnership of the UNHCR, the project will improve the capacity of relevant stakeholders especially civil society organisations and stakeholders to respond appropriately to issues concerning statelessness in Nigeria, develop a national action plan on statelessness with active engagement of all relevant stakeholders including government, as well as domesticate and implement measures to guarantee the right to a nationality for anyone with relevant link to Nigeria within the context of existing legal instruments identified.
He further stated that the project will identify organisations and stakeholders which have increased understanding of the scope of statelessness to create access to reference documents on the issue and its related aspects.
“The United Nations (UN) describes statelessness as a situation in which an individual is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its laws. Such a person is said to be invisible, without an identity and deprived of his or her fundamental human rights.
“More than 10 million people worldwide are in this situation with more than 750,000 of them found in West Africa. With the growing rate of statelessness, if no global action is taken, it would pose a great danger to us all, as some of these stateless persons could become targets of terrorist groups and used as mercenaries,” said Rafsanjani.
He further said: “The causes of statelessness in Africa can be attributed to gaps in nationality legislation, administrative practices, historical and contemporary migration and de-colonisation process, among others.
“Combating statelessness across the world has been the UN concern. This concern has motivated the development of several legislative frameworks to protect human rights and nationality. These frameworks include the 1954 Convention on Protecting the Rights of a Stateless Person and the 1961 Convention on Preventing and Reducing Statelessness.”
Rafsanjani also stated that the UNHCR has the responsibilities for refugees who are stateless, pursuant to the 1951 Convention, while the Abidjan Declaration of ECOWAS represents the region’s commitment to the fight against statelessness in West Africa.
“The Declaration was adopted during the first Ministerial Conference on Statelessness in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, jointly organised by ECOWAS and UNHCR in February 2015.
“In Nigeria, statelessness is not always well understood and the very nature of the phenomenon makes it difficult to assess its scope and magnitude.
“Preliminary analysis shows that risk of statelessness include failure to register birth of children, failure to provide safeguards for children who are abandoned or persons who want to relinquish their nationality, failure to provide safeguards for children born to parents of different nationalities among others,” he added.
He said the two statelessness conventions were yet to be domesticated and legislative reforms on them still pending.
According to him: “There is a need to bring all stakeholders together to support the strengthening of legal framework, improve institutional capacity and take practical steps to reduce risks of statelessness. The role of partnership between government entities and civil society organisations must be further strengthened.
“In the Nigerian context, civil society actors function to reduce the gap between national approaches and local realities. They must be able to represent and convey the aspirations of these most vulnerable segments of society, in this case, stateless persons, including women and children, by providing credible, objective analysis of their needs, while taking heed of the limits of existing policy frameworks.”