By Busayo Onijala
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it will do everything possible to protect the rights and obligations of refugees in Nigeria.
Mr John McKissick, the Deputy Country Representative, UNHCR, made this known in Lagos at a symposium organised to commemorate 70 years of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.
The News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) reports that the Refugee Convention protects the rights of people who have been forced to flee their countries, or cannot return to them due to varying circumstances.
The Refugee Convention also requires states parties to protect the right of people seeking international protection even if they cross borders irregularly.
According to McKissick, a refugee cannot be penalised for entering a country in a regular manner.
He said that the only obligation that a refugee had after entering a country was to approach the government and request asylum.
This, he said, should be done without delay, in order to set the ball rolling.
McKissick said that Nigeria had talented lawyers to represent refugees and protect them before the courts of law.
According to him, there is room for further 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 because of the fluid security situation in the northeast, IDPs especially had not been able to stay home, reintegrate and become thriving members of their community.
McKissick further applauded the Lagos State government for welcoming refugees into its city.
“Lagos has the highest number of urban refugees in Nigeria, with over 3,000 who have been recognised 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’re able to start trades and get jobs in order to be self reliant,” he said.
Mrs Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), said that the Refugee Convention remained the chief cornerstone regulatory instrument for international refugee protection.
Without it, she said, other regional and national instruments on refugee protection would be nonexistent.
Sulaiman-Ibrahim, represented by Mr Stephen Medaiyedu, said that the commission would continue to provide support and promote initiatives that impact positively on persons of concern.
According to her, the three traditional durable solutions to the global refugee problems of voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement have recorded milestone successes.
She said that countries of origin had witnessed successful voluntary returns of displaced citizens from countries of asylum in safety and dignity.
“Under the local solution strategy in Nigeria, the Federal Government has abolished the encampment policy, hence refugees are either in transit settlements or live in host communities.
“This is in keeping with the tenets 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 further said that Nigeria had been at the forefront of ensuring digital approaches to addressing 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 greatly remain committed and ready to continue to robustly partner with the UNHCR in protecting people who are forced to flee,” she said.
Also, Mr Femi Falana, Human Rights Lawyer, urged Civil Society Organisations(CSOs) to take up the assignment of protecting the rights of refugees.
“Unless we’re ready to do this, it will be difficult for us as citizens to contribute to the implementation of the convention for the protection of refugees.
“We have about 73,000 refugees which is infinitesimal compared to the large population of the country.
“Regarding the position of Nigeria in the region and the entire African continent, we must show leadership and be our brothers keeper,” Falana said. (NAN)