A two-day event aimed at sensitizing relevant stakeholders and the public on the importance of free movement and migration in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has open in Accra.
The meeting is expected to offer participants the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the ECOWAS Protocol relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment.
They will also learn about its supplementary protocols developed some four decades ago as well as issues relating to the ECOWAS National Biometric Identity Card.
A statement read on behalf of Madam Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration at the opening ceremony, said the move would enhance the courage, determination and commitment towards the effective implementation of the protocols.
She said the colonial demarcation of borders and enforced rules and regulations by national institutions had contributed tremendously in hindering free movement of people in the region and economic activities.
These developments, Madam Botchway said, had contributed to the prevalence of poverty and underdevelopment in the region, hence the reason leaders in West Africa committed themselves to the policy of regional, economic and cultural integration since the establishment of the ECOWAS on May 28, 1975.
Despite these protocols, she stated that the ECOWAS region continued to face challenges, which delayed the actualization of free movement as envisaged by its founders.
The challenges, she listed included, lack of knowledge of the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol and related texts, irregular migration, transnational crime, extortion, harassment and lack of valid travel documents.
“After over six decades of independence of ECOWAS member states, this should not be our story. We ought to chart a path towards real regional integration, which should lead to the development, prosperity, and wellbeing of our people,” she said.
On free movement efforts being taken by Ghana, Madam Botchway said the country had so far issued 560,000 ECOWAS Identity Cards and would be operationalized by March 2020.
“We have also made it easier for persons and goods to move freely throughout the country with the removal of several security checkpoints on our highways. We are, however, committed to ensuring that the security of our country is not compromised,” she said.
Madam Botchway said to ensure a better public understanding of issues relating to integration and their effective implementation, her Ministry had organised three events for stakeholders and the general public on the ECOWAS Brown Card, and regional and continental integration.
Mr Tony Luka Elumelu of the ECOWAS Directorate of Free Movement said that the protection of all migrants travelling through the ECOWAS states was important.
He said that migrants should be protected from abuse, harassment, and exploitation when they were in any of the ECOWAS states.