IOM, ECOWAS And Partners Hold Training In Liberia For Law Enforcement Operatives From Mano River Union Countries

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MONROVIA – A three-day training aimed at strengthening the capacity of law enforcement operatives from Mano River Union (MRU) countries to enhance the thorough and scrupulous implementation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Free Movement Manual has begun in Liberia.

The Training of Trainers on the ECOWAS Free Movement Manual kicked off on Monday, November 23, at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi County.

It is being implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) with funding from European Union (EU) and ECOWAS.

The training also seeks to strengthen the capacity of border operatives and relevant authorities to ensure “coherence in migration management”.

Speaking during the official opening ceremony, the Special Representative of the President of ECOWAS to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo, disclosed that the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital had long been identified as an indispensable pillar in the realization of integration, the fundamental mission of the regional organization.

Consequently, he added that, West African States, fully conscious of the immense benefits accruable from free movement of persons, goods and services, quickly followed the signing of the ECOWAS Treaty of Lagos in 1975 with theregion’s flagship Protocol relating to the Free Movement of Persons, and the Rights of Residence and Establishment in 1979. 

He noted that in keeping with the dynamism of global migration and in recognition of the contributions of migrants to the development of the economy of the region, Heads of State and Government of West African countries also adopted the “Common Approach on Migration with six cardinal axes of intervention in the management of migration”.

Amb. Ajisomo stated that these focal areas were envisioned to deploy a coordinated and harmonized approach in the implementation of actions relating to: Free Movement, Regular Migration, Gender, Harmonization of Migration Procedures, Refugees and Asylum. 

“Suffice it to say that despite the enormous progress achieved through the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol and the Common Approach on Migration, more needs to be done to facilitate intra-regional migration, cross border cooperation and labor mobility within the region”.

“Some of the implementation challengesare linked to poor knowledge among community citizens and the operatives about the provisions of the Protocol, especially the rights and obligations of citizens”.

The Manual

Commenting on the framework, Amb. Ajisomo pointed out that the ECOWAS Free Movement Manual was developed as a training guide to support harmonisation of control procedures through continuous and sustained sensitization and education of the population and immigration law enforcement officials.

According to him, the Manual remains a key factor to the successful implementation of ECOWAS free movement protocols and migration instruments.

He disclosed that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, migrants of “ECOWAS extraction are considered amongst the most dynamic and entrepreneurial members of our communities and hence needs more protection from the virus within the region and it is therefore in line with this, ECOWAS had developed guidelines on the Harmonization and Facilitation of Cross Border Trade and Transport and Mitigation of Health Risks in the ECOWAS region on the Covid-19 and related post-recovery actions”.

“The fact that ECOWAS countries are countries of origin and destination of labour, mobility to other parts of the African continent and beyond also makes imperative the need to ensure a safe, orderly and regular manner”.

Amb. Ajisomo, however, expressed optimism that the ECOWAS-EU project will continue to complement and enhance the capacities of the relevant actors in the region to better manage free movement and migration issues in line with international best practices, adding that, “expansion of similar interventions across the region should be encouraged”.

“This is pursuant to the vision of our Heads of State and Government for the transformation of our Community from “an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of People” anchored on a citizen-driven integration agenda”.

He further commended the European Union for accepting to fund the project – “Support to Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa (FMM West Africa)”.

For his part, IOM’s Country Director to Liberia, Mr. Mohamed Cherif Diallo, recalled that prior to the ECOWAS Free Movement Manual, the ECOWAS Commission, with support from the Free Migration Movement (FMM) project, conducted a baseline assessment which recommends that the ECOWAS Commission should develop a comprehensive, standardized free movement and immigration and border management training course and its manual.

He noted that the Manual, which is being used at the workshop, is the first step and can be used to infuse topics relating to free movement and immigration and border management into the training curricula for law enforcement officials to effectively implement the Free Movement Protocol.

Management of borders

Mr. Diallo, however, admitted that themanagement of ECOWAS borders as well as the protection of ECOWAS citizens “traversing those borders can be particularly challenging”.

Due to the many challenges border operatives faced, he maintained that, the Free Movement Manual will not only increase the capacities of border operatives, but it will also help contribute to the progress of the ECOWAS Commission’s reintegration and development agenda.

“The goal after this workshop is to extend the knowledge gained to the national levels. These types of trainings are crucial to the effective implementation of the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol. We must therefore promote such trainings among law enforcement and relevant authorities to reinforce accountability and responsibility of all those involved”.

“As it is part of IOM’s mandate to promote and ensure orderly and human migration, our partnership and collaboration with the region’s immigration services is paramount and highly valued. I, therefore, would like to take this opportunity to reiterate IOM’s commitment to the immigration services represented here today and to the ECOWAS Commission in its efforts in safeguarding free movement and mobility throughout the ECOWAS region”.

He recognized that during this challenging time of COVID-19, adequate border and migration management must now be included in a global health security component.

According to him, the IOM has played a key role in ensuring that cross-border movement and collaboration within the Mano River Union (MRU) is safe from COVID-19 transmission.

Mr. Diallo said the IOM has supported the government of Liberia in the equipment of 15 Counties/Districts at ground crossings with WASH infrastructures and risk communication material in preparation of the reopening of borders within the MRU.   

He added that his organization also aided the Liberia International Airport (RIA) with risk communication material for traveler’s safety.

He, however, expressed the hope that the training for trainers’ workshop will emphasize the importance of cross-border collaboration, harmonization and strengthening borders and immigration management and ensuring effective and efficient information sharing among the targeted countries.

Also speaking, the Deputy Minister for Codification at the Ministry of Justice, Cllr. Nyenati Tuan, expressed the hope that the participants will honestly and realistically revisit their past, identify shortcomings and forge ahead in enhancing the free movement of people, goods and services void of hindrance or bottlenecks.

He noted that though citizens were allowed to use their “yellow card” and other relevant documents to travel between ECOWAS nations in the past, the introduction of cyber-crimes, terrorism and others cannot permit citizens to freely migrate as compare to the past.

“During those days there was nothing like cyber-crimes and terrorism. These are challenges for you as Ambassadors of your respective countries manning your borders. This workshop comes at a time to review, assess and find ways to counteract the perceived and would-be criminals. We say in short, you must be two-feet ahead of the criminals”.

Minister Tuan, however, stressed the need for adequate measures or procedures to be adopted to ensure coherence among West African nations.

He pledged the Government of Liberia’s commitment towards the upholding of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, and the Rights of Residence and Establishment.

The Protocol

In May 1979, ECOWAS member States adopted their first protocol relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment.

It stipulates the right of ECOWAS citizens to enter, reside and establish economic activities in the territory of other member states and offers a three step roadmap of five years each to achieve freedom of movement of persons after fifteen years. 

The first phase regards the right of visa-free entry; phase two dealt with the right of residency, and phase three concerns the right of establishment in another member State. The first phase has been fully implemented.

The second phase, the right of residency, has also been implemented, given that citizens had obtained an ECOWAS residence card or permit in fellow member State. The third phase, the right of establishment, is still under implementation in most member States.

To facilitate the free movement of people in the ECOWAS region, member States established a common passport, formally known as the ECOWAS travel certificate.

The ECOWAS passport was introduced in December 2000 to exempt holders from intra-regional visa requirements and to function as an international travel document. The member States are currently in the process of implementing a joint visa for non-ECOWAS citizens that cover the whole region, the Eco-Visa.

ECOWAS has also implemented measures to ease the movement of persons transported in private and commercial vehicles by harmonizing policies that enable vehicles to enter and temporary reside in a member State for up to ninety and fifteen days respectively.

Most ECOWAS member States have, in this regards, instituted the ECOWAS brown card, which is an insurance of motor vehicles that covers the civil responsibly of the owner in the ECOWAS region.

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