By Agidike Abdul Onu
The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) was originally established as National Commission for Refugees by Decree 52 of 1989, now Cap. 21, Laws of the Federation, 2004. This was in fulfilment of the Federal Government’s obligation under Resolution 319(IV) of the General Assembly of the United Nations and Article 35 of the United Nations 1951 Convention.
Article 1a(2) of the 1951 Convention describes the term “refugee” as any person who as a result of events occurring and owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country: or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.
The National Commission for Refugees (NCFR) as it was then called was only responsible for managing the affairs of refugees.
However, in 2002, President Olusegun Obasanjo enlarged the Mandate to include Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons and this was the beginning of the expanded responsibilities of the commission.
Over the years, the NCFRMI has approached its mandate of providing Care and Maintenance as well as durable solutions to all its Persons of Concern (PoCs) including Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, Stateless persons, and Returnees among others with every sense of responsibility.
The cornerstone of refugee operation is the provision of political protection and material assistance necessary at least to guarantee their basic human rights. In this regard, the Commission provides them protection, food and non-food items, skill acquisition and other forms of empowerment aimed at ensuring that they regain their dignity. They are also assisted to enroll in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and to obtain Convention Travel Document (CTD). Ultimately, the desire of the Commission is to ensure that the refugees are either assisted to return to their original homes voluntarily, integrated into their host communities or outright resettlement in the third countries.
The Honourable Federal Commissioner NCFRMI, Senator Basheer Garba Mohammed (Lado) acknowledged the daunting task of managing an increasing number of refugees due to insecurity across the globe which Nigeria is not left out. On assumption of office in August 2019 as the Honourable Federal Commissioner, he set out clearly an agenda of a strategic partnership with stakeholders in order to be able to tackle the challenges squarely.
On refugee management, Senator Mohammed said the Commission has enjoyed immense support from the government as well as strategic national and international partners in tackling its mandate.
According to him, the Federal Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has done well for the Commission through special intervention funds to support budgetary provisions while noting that the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Agency responsible for refugees management, has been very supportive to the Commission.
Dwelling on some of the activities carried out with the support of UNHCR, the Federal Commissioner said that in 2019 it supported the voluntary repatriation of 134 Nigerian refugees of Adamawa State origin back from Cameroun and has been part of the on-going plans for massive repatriation of Nigerian refugees of Borno origin back to their homes. A batch of 4,982 Refugees is expected to return on February 27, 2021.
Meanwhile, a Federal Government delegation led by the Honourable Federal Commissioner, NCFRMI who is Chairman of the Technical Working Group (TWG) on repatriation of the Refugees were in Cameroon recently to deliberate on modalities for smooth return of the refugees. He was represented by the Director of Refugees and Migrants Affairs, Hassan Tai Ejibunu.
The UNHCR has also provided support in the area of motor vehicles to aid transportation in the Commission, supply of food and non-food items for the refugees in various locations.
In December 2020, the Commission in collaboration with the UNHCR concerned the Refugee Eligibility Committee meeting where 1,435 Nigeriens asylum seekers in Damasak, Borno State were recommended for grant of refugee status in Nigeria while another213 persons of other nationalities such as Syria, Cameroon, Congo and the Central Africa Republic have also been verified.
In the same vein, the UNHCR has assisted the Commission in the deployment of 12 staff each to Ogoja in Cross River State, Adikpo in Benue State and Takum in Taraba State respectively to support the on-going registration exercise of refugees in those areas.
You will recall that on the 28th of February, 2019, the first case of COVID 19 was detected and it soon spread like wildfire, bringing extreme hardship on the people, especially the older persons. The UNHCR continued to provide assistance and basic protection services. Consequently, it supplied large quantities of COVID 19 prevention materials such as hand wash, gloves, facemasks and buckets etc which complimented the Commission’s efforts and were widely distributed to refugees at their various locations. Early this year, January 3rd-16th to be specific, the UNHCR supported a Joint Mission to three North- the West States namely: Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara to conduct Rapid Needs Assessment and Protection Monitoring due to activities of bandits which have caused massive displacements.
Available records as of September 2020 indicate that Nigeria plays host to about 65,000 Cameroonian refugees, while the figures of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon is 116,409, Chad- 15,621 and Niger 167,588 respectively.
There are no reports of molestation of Nigerian refugees from anywhere in recent times to our knowledge, he said.
On Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Senator Mohammed reiterated that through the special intervention of the Federal Government, the Commission has embarked on the construction of a massive housing programme under the IDPs Resettlement Cities Project which has commenced in four initial States: Katsina, Borno, Zamfara and Edo. It consists of 600 units of furnished Two Bedroom in each of the selected States with provisions for educational facilities, business activities, worship places as well as adjoining farmland.
Similarly, the Commission with support from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has also commenced ‘Project Reliance’ which is designed to equip displaced persons with skills for better livelihood. Under the Project Reliance, 50 different skills and vocations have been identified for beneficiaries to choose from.
It is noteworthy to state that the Commission has flagged off the distribution of food and non-food items to Persons of Concern in 13 states of the federation in the last one month, and other states will take their turn shortly.
*Onu is Head, Press and PR, NCFRMI