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Lusaka, Wednesday, July 26, 2017: Chiefs of immigration from COMESA member States met in Lusaka, Zambia, 26 – 27 July 2017 to discuss how to implement the Protocol on Free Movement of People and The Right to Establishment.

The officials reviewed the status of the signing and ratification of the Free Movement Protocol and the status of implementation of the Council of Ministers’ Decisions on the implementation of the Protocol. They also approved an information tool-kit that has been developed to raising awareness on the implementation of the Protocol.

Currently, three COMESA member States namely Mauritius, Rwanda and Seychelles are in the lead in the removal of visa requirements for almost all African countries.  Rwanda and Kenya are implementing some of the aspects of the protocol. So far, Burundi is only State that has ratified it. Rwanda is in the process of doing so.

Speakers at the meeting applauded the States have progressively eased visa restrictions as a huge step forward towards full regional integration through free movement of persons.

Ambassador Kipyego Cheluget, the Assistant Secretary General for COMESA said the three countries have set a good example for the remaining member States to emulate.

He called on member countries to build on the work done by eight member states that have started compiling and harmonizing data on migration. This, observed, will promote a regional approach to issues of migration.

“Accurate and updated data will help the region to formulate informed policies to deal with issues of migration and free movement,” Ambassador Cheluget said in a statement delivered by the Director of Legal and Institutional Affairs Mr. Brian Chigawa

He added that in COMESA region and elsewhere in Africa, data related to migration was scare. Where it exists, the data is often outdated due to low capacity in dealing with statistics or sometimes deliberate manipulation and lack of political will.

Dr Chileshe Mulenga, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Zambia called on countries in the region to have champions of the free movement protocol.

“We need to identify leaders in our region who can take up the issue of free movement and run with it,” Dr Mulenga said. “We also need research institutions to collect information on migrants; do they for example behave the same way they do in America or Europe when they migrate within the region?”

He advised immigration departments in the member States to work with various government ministries such as Finance, Economic planning and Labour to have a broad approach to migration.

In his statement, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) Regional Director for Southern Africa Mr Charles Kwenin commended the launch of the COMESA-EAC-SADC tripartite Free Trade Area but said its success was heavily dependent on how the respective free movement agreements will be implemented.

The IOM through its Development Fund is supporting an ongoing pilot project between Zambia and Zimbabwe on capacity building and awareness raising for the two countries on the COMESA Visa Protocol.