How to manage displaced persons in ECOWAS region: Stakeholders give perspectives

How to manage displaced persons in ECOWAS region: Stakeholders give perspectives

L-R: Director-General of WAHO, Dr AISSI Melchior Athanase, Vice-President of ECOWAS Commission, HE Madam Damtien Tchintchibidja and other stakeholders at the opening of the workshop in Abuja…on Monday

How to manage displaced persons in ECOWAS region is the chief menu on the discourse table as experts in Migration, Humanitarian Affairs and Health Specialists meet in Abuja.

The 5-day workshop, which opened on Monday in the Nigerian capital, will focus on the current situation of returning African migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and asylum-seekers in the ECOWAS region.

Declaring the workshop open, the Vice President of the ECOWAS Commission, H.E. Madam Damtien L. Tchintchibidja, noted that its was the collective responsibility of ECOWAS as a regional body and regional health organization to respond to the various alerts by reflecting on the different aspects of those issues to have a thorough understanding.

She also emphasised the need for ECOWAS, through the on-going workshop, to come up, as quickly as possible, with appropriate solutions before the problems reach proportions that might be out of control.

“The ECOWAS Commission is willing to go beyond assessment missions and current punctual humanitarian actions and is planning to work with the West African Health Organization (WAHO) to elaborate a contingency plan which will guide our actions in handling efficiently these humanitarian emergencies and their related health risks,” she  said.

According to Madam Tchintchibidja, the nature of the issues required proper planning, coordination, resource mobilization, as well as collaboration with Member States and Partners already working in humanitarian and health fields.

“The solutions will not come from a single Member State or one organization, it will take concerted and consistent efforts to address issues such as irregular migration, terrorist attacks, trans-border crimes, farmer-herder conflicts, human trafficking, or political violence,” said the ECOWAS Commission Vice President.

Director-General of WAHO, Dr. AISSI Melchior Athanase, in his remarks, noted that beyond the consequences of refoulement linked to the migratory crisis which pushes African youth towards the countries of the North, there had been population displacements due to more or less generalized armed security crises.

“In terms of figures, according to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published on August 25, 2022, during the last United Nations General Assembly, there were approximately 38.3 million forcibly displaced people who needed 3 protection and assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. Among them were nearly 25 million internally displaced persons, 7 million refugees, 4.2 million returnees, 1 million stateless persons and 542,000 asylum seekers. Millions of citizens of our community space are also counted among these people,” he said.

“These upheavals are at the origin of the complexity of the situation in which national health systems must face the challenges of Universal Health Coverage as well as the preparation and response to health emergencies,” he added.

He explained that it was in view of all those elements that it became necessary to put in place a contingency plan to strengthen the capacities of national health systems and to frame the support action of WAHO and ECOWAS to Member States.

According to the WAHO Director-General, remarkable progress had been made with colleagues from the ECOWAS Department of Humanitarian and Social Affairs to support these vulnerable populations and coordinate the action of stakeholders.

While congratulating the Commissioner for Social and Humanitarian Affairs, for her leadership and unwavering support for our Member States, Dr. AISSI Athanase also saluted the collaboration with the other Commissioners of the ECOWAS Commission and their teams who are present alongside us on a daily basis.

Other key stakeholders at the opening ceremony included the ECOWAS Commissioner for Humanitarian Development and Social Affairs, Professor Fatou Sarr and; International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) Regional Representative and Head of Abuja, Momodou Lamin Fye.

The lead organisers of the workshop are Dr. Virgil Lokossou, Executive Director of the ECOWAS Regional Centre for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCSDC), representing WAHO and; Dr. Ugbe Sintiki, Director of Humanitarian Affairs, representing the ECOWAS Commission.

The background to the workshop is the fact that the ECOWAS region is faced with recurring complex health crises. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the region has recently been faced with the health consequences of multiple terrorist attacks, and these challenges require political, social, humanitarian and health responses.

Of recent, the region has equally been plagued by uncontrolled population movements and, or health population displacements with a detrimental impact on security, social, environmental aspects.

The 5-day regional workshop, which was planned in order to strengthen the contribution of the WAHO in supporting the national health systems of countries affected by terrorist threats, is envisaged to discuss the analysis of the situation in terms of health systems management in a context of security crisis in West Africa.

The development of an ECOWAS joint contingency plan was therefore initiated by WAHO, through the ECOWAS Regional Center for Surveillance and Disease Control (RCSDC), the Department of Agriculture and Economic Affairs and the Department of Social and Humanitarian Affairs, in order to enhance national capacities and  provide assistance to the displaced population,

The regional technical workshop is also aimed at exploring essential avenues and actions to complement the efforts of other Community departments (contingency plan).