By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA—Except the Federal Government and the Cameroonian authorities scale up efforts at addressing the myriad of challenges confronting residents of Bakassi Peninsula, the people of the area might become stateless soon, a United Nations agency has warned.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR, the Bakassi people are fast approaching a stage where they may not be able to prove any link with either Nigeria or Cameroon.
UNHCR Representative to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Angele Dikongue-Atangana, gave the warning, yesterday, in Abuja at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with the ECOWAS Parliament.
The MOU seeks to jointly resolve all issues relating to internal displacement and statelessness in the West African sub-region.
“This is the situation where some 10 million and even more around the world are found and in West Africa, we believe we have at least one million of them especially in Côte d’Ivoire.
“Here in Nigeria, it could become the situation of those who left the Bakassi Peninsula which has become the territory of Cameroon.
“Those who were living there claimed to be Nigerians. Those people, today, are displaced and they may find themselves in a situation where they may not be in a position to prove their legal links with their country Nigeria and may not also be able to prove such links with Cameroon which would expose them to being stateless,” she said.
Bakassi, formerly a Nigerian territory, was transferred to Cameroon, after a judgment by the International Court of Justice in August, 2008.
Dikongue-Atangana noted that statelessness may not be ending in the sub-region very soon, as “it is a very old problem.
“We declared 2014, decade for combating statelessness which runs through to 2024. We do hope that through our efforts and all the partnership we are signing across the continent and the world, we would come about some sort of end. Of course, we will like to see the end but it is not something that will happen tomorrow,” she added.
She expressed optimism that the MoU would ensure greater collaboration between the two bodies and create a conducive environment for refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons as well as internally displaced persons and those who are at risk of becoming stateless.