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Stakeholders charge AU, ECOWAS on migrants rights

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Wali, Obanikoro, envoys urge caution over xenophobic attacks

FOLLOWING the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Boko Haram terrorism affecting Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger with its attendant rising refugee figures, as well as migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, stakeholders have called on the African Union (AU) and the ECOWAS, to ensure that rules for protection of migrants feature prominently in national laws of countries in the continent.
Meanwhile, to douse the anger over the xenophobia attack by South Africa, the Federal Government on Tuesday appealed for caution from Nigerians and other arms of government.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and the Nigerian envoys to South Africa , Messrs. Uche Ajulu-Okeke and Martin Cobham, persuaded the Senate Committee on Foreign affairs to soft pedal over the incident.

Discussions at a two day Regional seminar on Information and Migration, holding in Abuja, revealed on Tuesday that migration has been a critical issue not only in Europe, but across Africa also.
They said a lot of migrants have had their rights trampled upon and foreign nationals involved have been maltreated without access to basis needs such as health facilities, education and other amenities.

Participants from both English and French speaking African countries agreed that migrants impact the economies and the societal lives of the countries where they live positively, and that the impact of migrants on their host countries are not only negative.

One of the resource persons at the programme, Aboubacry Mbodji, stated that the human rights situation of migrants at the moment was precarious, even in Africa. He raised the issue of illegal detention and inhuman treatment in detention as some of the situations being faced by migrants.
He enjoined AU to coordinate the harmonization of the migration laws of the different countries on the continent in order to ensure that the rights of migrants are protected in accordance with the African Charter on Human Rights which serves as the constitution of the continental body.

“No country has the right to expel migrants within its borders”, he said, adding that though Mauritania is guilty of this, since it is a member of the AU, it can be compelled to act right. “The regional bodies will have to harmonise their strategies to handling migrants issues. ECOWAS is taking the lead but AU is dragging its feet”, he said.

Another resource person who spoke on the issue, Mamadou Mbengue from Senegal, said that the integration of migrants into their host countries was important and that the regional bodies should start from the implementation of the common currency to achieve this.
According to him, ECOWAS has a protocol on the freedom of movement in the region but very many of the citizens are yet to be aware of this. He urged better enlightenment to enhance people’s knowledge about the legal instruments that help their migrant status.

One issue that came to the fore at the seminar was the role of the media in ensuring integration and helping the situations of migrants.

Tidiane Kasse from Niger enumerated how the media across the region, have neglected the positive impact of migrants and would rather prefer the negative stories. He also talked about how they would disseminate stories in ways that have further fuelled crisis.

He suggested that media houses should give more space and attention to migration stories as a way of helping migrants’ integration and acceptance by host countries, rather than the fleeting interest in reporting migrant stories.

Editor of The Guardian, Martins Oloja, who was also a resource person at the seminar, told participants that migration issues were such that required long investigations, research, use of data, and many times are costly on the part of journalists who are mostly not economically equipped.
He called on the civil society to raise issues of migrants often in order to get the media to focus on them.

“CSOs should raise issues so media can follow up. Otherwise, journalists can be accused of writing opinions all the time. Good stories usually come from experts that raise significant issues”, he said.

To journalists, he enjoined them to pay attention to issues that will earn them awards in the hearts of the people. According to him, reporters should also study cultures while reporting migration issues.
The top government functionaries made the plea when they appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs for briefing over the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

They specifically pleaded with the Senate to reconsider its stand over its five-point resolution seeking severance of certain bilateral relationship with South Africa.
The Senate had last week, passed a resolution to among others, urge the Federal government to recall the two envoys in Pretoria and Johannesburg as well as take the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry were of the view that taking such drastic actions against the South Africans because of the incident would adversely affect its economy and that Nigeria might attract negative publicity in the process.

In his submission, Wali explained that what happened in South Africa was not targeted at Nigerians though the incident had negatively affected few Nigerians.

He said, “As at now the situation has not warranted such drastic actions like recalling our envoys in South Africa. We are big brothers of Africa. We cannot retaliate by recalling our envoys because it will send wrong signals, which could affect their economy.

“Even countries whose citizens were killed and got their shops looted, had not taken such drastic action.”

He explained that the police in South Africa seemed to be overwhelmed hence authorities of the country drafted the military, especially to the ghetto to maintain law and order because security reports had indicted the police as being part of the problem.

Wali further stressed that law and order had been restored in the country since military personnel were deployed in the major towns that were mostly affected by the incident.

He said, “On the Zulu king, the South African Human Rights Commission is already investigating his roles, hence we need to wait for the outcome of the investigation so that we don’t assume holier than thou status.

“What we need to do now is to make sure that there is support from our government to make sure that Nigerians affected are well taken care of.”
He said two Nigerians were wounded and hospitalized; five shops looted; two families, which included six women and eight children, were also displaced.

He also explained that a total of N84 million being damages done to Nigerians had been calculated and was being processed on behalf of the victims, as compensation.
He also said that South Africa though politically independent, has been economically independent, adding, “any further negative actions taken against them will adversely affect them. We should not allow this particular incident to destroy our past efforts in South Africa which Nigerians contributed immensely to assist in getting out of the apartheid.”
Obanikoro said that King Zulu had addressed a news conference in Durban where he invited envoys of the affected countries and refuted the claim that he incited people against foreigners.
He also noted that, “since kings in Africa didn’t admit mistakes or offer apology publicly, for Zulu to have done this, means it’s his own way of offering apology.”
Nwankwo, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, said his members would report details of their findings back to the Senate.


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