Outdated Protocol Limitation

N'faly Sanoh
N’faly Sanoh

Participants at the two-day meeting of heads of ECOWAS national units, civil society and immigration officials want two key provisions on free movement of persons within ECOWAS abolished

|  By Maureen Chigbo  |  Mar. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

A NEW proposal by heads of ECOWAS national units, civil society and Immigration officials wants the commission to abolish two key provisions of the regional Protocol on free movement of persons. The provisions are the 90-day limit for community citizens visiting other member states without visa and imposition of a residency card for those staying beyond 90 days.  Under the 1979 regional flagship protocol on free movement of persons, the right of residence and establishment, ECOWAS citizens are required to stay for a maximum of 90 days on a visit to another member state and obtain a residence permit for stays beyond this period, a restriction that also applied to their personal cars. The free movement protocol has made the community the only visa-free region in Africa. However, there are impediments to its implementation. These include alleged discrimination, extortion and harassment of citizens, which constitutes a serious barrier to free movement.

A cross section of Participants from ECOWAS Member States
A cross section of Participants from ECOWAS Member States

The officials are also recommending that the existing regional travel certificate should be replaced in 2015 with an ECOWAS biometric national identity card. The recommendations are the outcome of a meeting of the officials, which ended at the ECOWAS Commission’s Abuja headquarters March 8. The meeting also reviewed the status of implementation of the protocol, identified the grey areas and recommended amendments and a revision.

Participants at the two-day meeting argued that the abolition of the 90-day limit was consistent with the decision of the mini-summit of heads of state and governments held in Abuja in March 2000 and the 7th forum of ministers in charge of security held in November 2009. They also recommended that the clause “in accordance with national legislation” should be expunged from the protocol,” and called for the establishment of “a working group to develop modalities for a secure and effective identification mechanism for community citizens residing within member states as well as in border communities.”

In recommending that the travel certificate be replaced by a regional biometric national ID card, the meeting called on member states to harmonise their divergent immigration laws and policies to ensure the successful deployment of the National ID cards. Also, member states yet to deploy the ECOWAS passport were urged to expedite actions in this regard and “identify possible areas of intervention by the ECOWAS Commission.”

On the right of establishment, the meeting urged member states to ensure equal treatment of their nationals and citizens of other member states in the creation and management of enterprises or private companies.

Member states should also harmonise their investment codes with the provisions of the supplementary protocol which forbids any form of discrimination.

Regarding ECOWAS citizenship, the meeting recommended the harmonisation of national laws concerning citizenship and naturalisation.

“Citizens of ECOWAS with dual nationality can, without exception, enjoy community citizenship,” the meeting said, adding that “Dual nationality should no longer be considered to be a limiting factor.”

A cross section of participants
A cross section of participants

The meeting also recommended the establishment of information and observation centres to “ensure that citizens are aware of their rights, ensure compliance with the protocol and thereby reduce cases of harassment.” This will serve as a monitoring mechanism for the effective implementation of the protocol.

In that regard, the meeting also recommended the establishment of a Committee of Eminent Persons whose terms of reference would be provided by ECOWAS Commission. On asylum seekers and refugees, the meeting recommended the development of a document of “refugee” within the Community, which shall define the concept and serve as guideline for treatment of Community citizens who fall under this category.

Pending the development of a supplementary Act on refugees, the meeting recommended that a provision should be made for the reintegration of migrants of ECOWAS extraction who fall under the “refugee” category, and provide them with relevant documents and safeguard them against discrimination. The recommendations are to be forwarded to the regional ministers of security.

While opening the meeting, Ahmed Hamid, ECOWAS Commissioner for customs, trade, mines, industry, free movement and tourism, reaffirmed the commission’s commitment to eliminating impediments to the successful implementation of the free movement protocol.

He highlighted the urgent need to review some provisions of the text to ensure a seamless implementation, including a redefinition of the ECOWAS Citizenship to take into account Community citizens in the Diaspora.

Sanoh N’Faly, director of free movement/tourism, in his presentation, listed proposals for deliberation on the review of the protocol based on the outcome of the first regional heads of national units meeting. Among them is the removal of legal, administrative and political limitations, including incessant instability in the region as well as the need to institutionalise a forum for dialogue on migration issues for the region.

Earlier, Minourou Silla, of Cote d’Ivoire, who chaired the meeting on behalf of the chairman of administration and finance committee, said the outcome of the meeting should facilitate the full realisation of the benefits of the free movement protocol.

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