Nigeria has approved citizenship status for about 7,000 Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees in the West African country. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports that the refugees opted to remain in Nigeria after the U.N. refugee agency closed their camp in Nigeria.
The Economic Community of West African States says the agreement signed with Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the U.N. High Commission for Refugees allows the refugees to settle in Nigeria.
They are to be issued Liberian and Sierra Leonean passports, but will enjoy citizenship rights in Nigeria and have access to employment, education, and health care on the same terms as Nigerians.
ECOWAS President Mohammed Ibn Chambas told VOA the Liberians and Sierra Leoneans will lose their refugee status and become ECOWAS community citizens.
"Because they had been under U.N. protection, the United Nations did not want to leave them like that. We are drawing attention of the country where they are staying to the fact that you are an ECOWAS community citizen," he said. "For this reason, you will still get legal protection, than say a Congolese, or a Chadian, or a Sudanese, than a South African who lives in Nigeria."
The United Nations closed the main refugee camp in Nigeria in June, withdrawing U.N. protection for refugees who chose to remain in Nigeria. The 5,600 Liberians and 1,600 Sierra Leoneans decided against going home under a U.N.-sponsored voluntary repatriation plan.
An estimated 200,000 people were killed in Liberia's 14-year old civil war, while another 50,000 died in neighboring Sierra Leone. Millions of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans were driven from their homes by the crises.