WORLD REFUGEE DAY; Together We Can Achieve Anything
Hajia Imaan Suleiman-Ibrahim
June 20th every year is observed as the United Nations World Refugee Day. The day is set aside to celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution. It is marked in order to build empathy and understanding for the plight of the refugees and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives.
According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Together We Can Achieve Anything”, while the sub-theme is “Together we heal, learn and shine”, which calls for a greater inclusion of refugees in health systems, school and sports.
In Nigeria, the World Refugee Day is commemorated by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR.
There are a total of 26.3 million refugees in the world. Out of this figure, 73,000 are in Nigeria, 71,400 are Refugees and 1,600 are Asylum-seekers. Nigeria play host to refugees and asylum seekers from Cameroon, Niger, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Benin Republic, Togo and China.
The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, under the Nigerian Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, is implementing all the international protocols and conventions, such as the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, the 1967 Protocols, and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention relating to protection and care of refugees all of which Nigeria is a signatory.
Aside from ensuring that all the rights that guaranteed Refugees in the Protocols and Conventions are not denied, the Government of Nigeria, through the National Refugee Commission, at the 2019 Global Refugee Forum’s meeting, made far reaching pledges and commitments for the inclusion of refugees, IDPs, and returnees in national development plans.
In fulfilment of the pledges, the Nigerian Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, in 2020, made a special provision for the Commission in the designing of Economic Sustainability Plan to ease implementation of key actions relating to refugees and IDPs.
Similarly, in February 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued directive to Banks and Financial Institutions to recognise refugee identity documents issued by the Commission and UNHCR and Convention Travel Document by the National Refugee Commission and Nigeria Immigration Service for opening of bank accounts to facilitate access to financial services in Nigeria.
Right now in Nigeria, there are ongoing discussions for inclusion of refugees in national Social Safety Nets. Already, Refugees are included in national educational and health systems, including National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) like other Nigerians.
There is also government-led provision of land for refugees’ settlement and use for agriculture in States like Cross River and Benue State.
Nigeria has maintained a positive protection environment for refugees by ensuring the integrity of the asylum system in line with international legal instruments and freedom of movement for refugees, IDPs and returnees. It is also maintaining its open-door policy; and promoting legal pathways for durable solutions.
To ensure that refugees are properly settled, the government has commenced the building of Resettlement Cities in Borno, Edo, Zamfara and Katsina States for Returnees and IDPs towards ensuring durable solution for their shelter needs.
The launch of Project Reliance, which is a flagship project of the National Refugee Commission, migrants and internally displaced persons in collaboration with the CBN designed to provide loans to returnees, IDPs and other Persons of Concern shows how the Nigerian Government is committed to the fight against the plight of refugees in the country.
The Nigerian Capital Abuja became the 267th City in the world to sign the declaration on Cities with Refugees as a show of the receptiveness of the Government to these class of people and being Refugee friendly.
According to Warsan Shire “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark’’; Therefore, it behooves on all Nigerians to see the protection of refugees and asylum seekers as an obligation that must be upheld. Collectively, we can achieve anything.
This News Commentary was written by Hajia Imaan Suleiman -Ibrahim,Honourable Federal Commissioner,National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria.