By Iddi Z. Yire, GNA Special Correspondent in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Courtesy of the UNHCR
Abidjan, Feb 26, GNA – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has praised the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for showing strong commitment towards the eradication of statelessness.
Mr AntÃ³nio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said this strong commitment by West African countries reflected a growing awareness of the magnitude of the problem in the sub-region.
Mr Guterres said this on Wednesday in Abidjan during the first ever Ministerial Conference on Statelessness in West Africa.
The conference on the theme ‘Partnership to Resolve Statelessness’ was organised by the UNHCR and the Ivorian government in collaboration with ECOWAS.
Statelessness is a situation whereby an individual residing in a state is denied all the privileges and rights given to its citizens because he or she has no document to prove that he or she is a citizen.
These individuals are in this situation because they have difficulties proving they possess links to a state due, for instance, to a lack of birth registration and personal documentation that traces their origins and could confirm their identity.
He said across Africa there was a growing awareness of the importance of the right to nationality which was further given credence with the launch of the report of the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights at the African Union Summit in January.
The Ministerial Conference, was be preceded by two days of high-level technical debates among experts in the field of nationality and statelessness, which would come up with concrete recommendations on how to prevent, reduce and resolve statelessness in West Africa.
The conference sought to promote the accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
The Commissioner said in West Africa, statelessness had many causes, most of which were related to the lack of legal safeguards in legislation and various administrative barriers to the acquisition of proof of citizenship.
Several citizenship laws do not provide for the right of women to pass their nationality to their children, or restrict access to citizenship based on race or ethnicity.
He said the other fundamental risk of statelessness was related to civil status, including the number of children born in the region without access to birth certificates.
‘The reform of nationality laws and the establishment of legal safeguards enabling all children to have birth right to nationality are essential to ensure the full realization of the values â€‹â€‹and principles that define the community of states ECOWAS,’ he said.
He commended President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire for his leadership and for his strong commitment in the fight against statelessness
He said while most people took for granted having a nationality, for those who do not, or cannot prove it, it is often a sentence to a life of discrimination, frustration and despair ; declaring that this problem affects at least 10 million people worldwide.
President Ouattara urged ECOWAS member states to mobilize to make the fight against statelessness, a regional cause.
‘We must ensure that people living in statelessness will become targets to thank you for terrorist groups,’ he said.
Dr Toga Gayewea Mcintosh, Vice President of the ECOWAS Commission, lauded UNHCR for showing faith in ECOWAS towards efforts to combat statelessness.
Ghana’s Deputy Minister for the Interior, Mr James Agalga, said Ghana had started initiatives that would provide the impetus for it to accede to the United Nations’ Conventions on Statelessness by 2016.
He said, along aside these initiatives, the government recognised the need to develop an appropriate legal and political policy framework for preventing statelessness and protecting stateless persons.
Mr Mamadou Diarra, Malian Minister for Justice and Human Rights, said about 1,500 Mauritanian refugees children born in his country would be given Malian citizenship.
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