The Comptroller-General of the Ghana Immigration Service, Kwame Asuah Takyi, has called on ECOWAS Heads of Immigration to "up their game" towards the effective integration of their immigration systems.
Moreover, he said there was the need for ECOWAS Heads of Immigration to work hard towards the deployment of a regional visa (ECOWAS) for migrants of third countries.
"This when done, would enhance facilitating the movement of investors towards the development of the sub-region," he said.
Mr Takyi said at the opening of the Seventh ECOWAS Heads of Immigration Meeting in Accra last Thursday.
The meeting is to review the procedures and processes for the implementation of the ECOVISA in the region, present the design specimen of the ECOVISA for validation and present the report and recommendations from experts meeting for discussions.
The introduction of the ECOVISA in the ECOWAS region has been prioritised as a catalyst to boost economic activities and enhance tourism.
The advantage of a single visa system within the ECOWAS space is expected to serve as a vehicle to attract foreign investments.
Mr Takyi said it was an undeniable fact that the implementation of ECOWAS Protocol on free movement within the sub region by member states had been met with some challenges.
In effect, he said the lack of harmonisation and coordination of national laws and policies of member states had frustrated the capacity for a unified region.
He said language differences, different legal systems, lack of a single database, issues of harassment, extortions and corruption of border officials, among other things, had been some of the issues.
Comptroller General of the Ghana Immigration Service interacting with Albert Siaw-Boateng(3rd from left), ECOWAS Director for Free Movement of Persons and Migration after the opening ceremony of the Seventh ECOWAS Heads of Immigration Meeting in Accra. With them are Pascoal Benante(left), Chairman of the ECOWAS Heads of Immigration Meeting and Dominic Obetta Asogwa(right), Deputy Comptroller General of Nigerian Immigration Service.
In this current rapidly changing world, Mr Takyi said one of the prime issues of every state was national security and that it was the responsibility of every state to protect its land and citizens from both internal and external threats.
He said national security had now become a shared responsibility and that the community of ECOWAS needed to work towards effective collaboration and cooperation by sharing intelligence and information, joint training and awareness creation, human resource development in all areas of immigration, counter terrorism and transnational crimes among others.
“It is time to integrate our various border management and control systems in order to achieve proper Regional Integration as the European Union member states have done by establishing the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) which is responsible for managing the external borders of EU and Schengen Associated countries, with harmonised controls among the European Union.
“It has been said that the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons, goods and services would barely survive as it faces many challenges that seem unsurmountable,” he said, adding that “I strongly believe that, if member states will pool resources, harmonise national laws and policies, put in place inter states infrastructure to build our various economies, West Africa will surely lead the way to the continental integration of Africa”.
The ECOWAS Director for Free Movement of Persons and Migration, Albert Siaw-Boateng, said ECOWAS countries always had to show that they were together.
He said the issue of the introduction of the ECOVISA started in 2010 where a roadmap was drawn to that effect.
“A Council of Ministers and Heads of State in August 2011 agreed to the fact that ECOVISA …is for migrants of third countries,” he said.
The Chairman of the ECOWAS Heads of Immigration Meeting, Pascoal Benante, stressed the need for ECOWAS states to speak with one voice, adding that there was the need for collaboration and cooperation.
He said countries should put forward the well-being of their citizens than individual state interests, hence the need for partnership and collaboration in the quest to execute the project for the free movement of goods and people.