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Heads of Immigration from COMESA Member States are meeting in Lusaka today for a two days meeting to address the implementation of the COMESA Protocol on free movement of people and the right to establishment. This is their ninth meeting and will focus on three things; Consider a report of a Task force that conducted a study on the implementation of the protocol in eight selected countries in the region.

The Task Force was constituted following concerns by Ministers in charge of Immigration that there had not been much progress in the implementation of the Visa Protocol on one hand and the signing and Ratification of the Protocol on Free Movement. Consequently they directed for the constitution of the team to establish the challenges and reason why member States were slow.

The Immigration Chief will also discuss a draft strategy and Action Plan for the implementation of the COMESA Protocol on Visas and how to engage Member States to sign and ratify it. Thirdly, they will discuss the status report on the implementation of the Protocols and decision of the COMESA Council of Minister with regard to Immigration issues.

During the opening of the meeting today, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius won praise for having gone beyond the Protocol requirement in easing the Visa requirements for African countries. COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya challenged immigration chiefs from countries with strict Visa restrictions to learn from their counterparts how they had addressed inherent fears that inhibit them from relaxing Visa rules.

"Immigration department exist to facilitate movement of persons and not to control them," Ngwenya said. "With the modern technology, some of the concerns raised by States concerning security can easily be addressed especially in identification of people."

Further, he observed that the quest for revenue from Visa fees should not encourage States to maintain them as there were more economic benefits to reap from movement of business people and tourism in comparison.

"Whereas many countries have signed and ratified Free Trade Area for goods, they have not done the same for the movement of business people who are the owners of these goods," Mr Ngwenya noted. He encouraged Member States to work in clusters whereby they put in place reciprocal measures such as issuance of Visa on point of entry and progressively work towards full elimination of visa requirement and expansion of the clusters to include more States.

Focus he said should be on enhancing the capacity of Immigration departments to deploy modern technology in facilitating travel so that countries can complement each especially on skilled labour gaps as this will contribute to their economic growth and competitiveness.

The Programme Manager for EU expertise at the International Centre for Policy Development (ICMPD) Mr Chirita Oleg told the delegates that success of regional economic cooperation and integration depended on the effective removal of restrictions to citizens’ movements. "The twentieth century assumption that migration is a strictly national problem is no longer valid.” He said. "Today’s approach to migration demands that we come to terms with the social and economic forces propelling people across borders, and that the instruments developed at regional level equip countries to reap the full benefits of intra-regional mobility."

Charles Kwenin, Adviser to the Director General of the International Organization for Migration also addressed the Immigration chiefs.

The meeting ends tomorrow with the production of a report that will be presented to the Ministers of Immigration who will meet on Thursday 25 June 2015.