Commentary on the 2021 World Refugees Day
By Imaan Suleiman-Ibrahim
The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their 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.”
To honour refugees around the globe, the United Nations has designated June 20 of every year, as a World Refugee Day. The day celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.
It is an occasion to build empathy and understanding for their plight and to recognize their resilience in rebuilding their lives. 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 (NCFRMI) 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, out of which 71,400 are Refugees and 1,600 are Asylum-seekers (May 2021). Nigeria play host to refugees and asylum seekers from Cameroon, Niger, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cotre D’Ivoire, Benin Republic, Togo and China.
- The essence of this news commentary, therefore, is to highlight what the Government of Nigeria has done to ensure the inclusiveness of refugees in her national development plan, as signatory to the different Conventions and Protocols relating to protection and care of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons.
- The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, is the government agency statutorily empowered to implement all the international protocols and conventions, such as the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, its 1967 Protocols, and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention relating to protection and care of refugees that Nigeria is signatory. Aside from ensuring that all the rights guaranteed Refugees in the Protocols and Conventions are not denied, the Government of Nigeria, through the NCFRMI, 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 following actions have been undertaken:
- The Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, in 2020, made a special provision for NCFRMI in the designing of Economic Sustainability Plan so as to ease implementation of key actions relating to refugees and IDPs.
- In February 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued directive to Banks and Financial Institutions to recognise refugee identity documents issued by NCFRMI and UNHCR and Convention Travel Document (CTD) by NCFRMI and Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) for opening of bank accounts to facilitate access to financial services in Nigeria.
iii. There are ongoing discussions for inclusion of refugees in national social safety nets through NASSCO.
- Refugees are included in national educational and health systems, including National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) at par with Nigerian citizens.
- There is government-led provision of land for refugees’ settlement and use for agriculture in Cross River State in South-South Region of Nigeria and Benue State, in the North-Central Region.
- Nigeria maintains positive protection environment by ensuring the integrity of the asylum system in line with international legal instruments and freedom of movement for refugees, IDPs and returnees; maintaining its open-door policy; and promoting legal pathways to durable solutions.
vii. Nigeria is facilitating access to birth registration and the enrolment of refugees, IDPs and returnees into the national identity management system to prevent and reduce the risk of statelessness and facilitate access to services. As of 2021, NCFRMI is licensed to facilitate enrolment of refugees on the national Identity Number (NIN) as required by Government through NIMC. 2021.
viii. Commencement of the building of Resettlement Cities in Borno, Edo, Zamfara and Katsina States for Returnees and IDPs towards ensuring durable solution for their shelter needs.
- Launch of Project Reliance, which is a flagship project of NCFRMI in collaboration with the CBN designed to provide loans to Returnees, IDPs and other Persons of Concern (PoCs).
- To show the receptiveness of Government of Nigeria to Refugees, the Honourable Minister of Federal Capital Territory has signed the #CitiesWithRefugees Declaration, making Abuja as the 267th City of the World that is Refugee friendly.
- The Government of Nigeria deserve kudos for these lofty achievements. Individuals and corporate organisations are hereby called upon to partner with the government to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are given the required support to make life meaningful to them. Their being refugees is not their making. According Warsan Shire “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark’’. Therefore, I urge all Nigerians to see the protection of refugees and asylum seekers as our obligation, as in the words of Dina Nayeri “It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks’’. Collectively, we can achieve anything.
Hajia Imaan Suleiman-Ibrahim is the Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees,Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria.
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