by Julius Gale
JUBA, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- East Africa's bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) seeks to achieve free movement of persons, goods and services among the seven member states before the end of this year, officials said Wednesday.
Speaking during a national consultative meeting about the IGAD Protocol on free movement of persons in the region, Abdelrahim Ahmed Khalil, Head of IGAD Liaison Office in South Sudan, said the regional bloc has embarked on consultations with all member states to ensure that the protocol is agreed upon before the end the year.
Khalil said the meeting seeks to gather information on benefits and barriers to free movement of persons in the IGAD region and also generate recommendations from the nine member countries towards accomplishment of a protocol that guarantees free movement in the region.
"We have already held consultative meetings for Uganda, now we are in South Sudan and next time we are going to other countries; Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya, all these will be finalized hopefully before the end of this year and we have the Protocol consulted and agreed," Khalil said.
The Protocol on Free Movement of Persons is aimed at promoting the regularization of the high volume of informal movement that currently takes place in the IGAD region, and is to increase the opportunities for legal mobility.
Khalil said IGAD has been engaged in seeking ways to strengthen regional cooperation and free movement of persons, goods and services for the last 30 years.
He added that once completed, it would promote mobility of people, trade and employment opportunities for citizens of the IGAD countries.
"We hope that with this protocol, people will have that opportunity to move freely, from country to country, to own property and to engage in other activities." Khalil added.
Article 7 of the agreement establishing IGAD, demands member States to promote free movement of goods, services, and persons as well as the establishment of residence.
Stefano De Leo, Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation in South Sudan hailed the proposed protocol as an important tool in strengthening regional cooperation, realization of peace and development of countries.
"The biggest benefit of free movement is peace, is leaving instability, is sharing and harmonizing what we all need for prosperity and this is only possible if you put your forces together and you make your people understand that they are citizens not only of your country but citizens of the wider IGAD area," the EU envoy said.
William Barriga, Chief of Mission of the UN migration agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM) in South Sudan said the protocol comes at an opportune time when the region is faced with numerous migration crises such as the South Sudan conflict, which has displaced over 2 million people.
Barriga added that the proposed protocol upon completion will ensure that the rights of migrants are protected by facilitating integration into host countries through harmonization and domestication of articles in national legislations.
"History has consistently shown that migration benefits all especially if it's, orderly and dignified," Barriga said.
He urged IGAD leaders to embrace implementation of the protocol to ease legal migration in the region.
"Migration is not like water in the tap that you can open and close, but is like water in the river that will seek its own way when you block it. You close the front, people will use the back door, and the back door is always bad, cold, and dangerous and where human rights are violated," he added.
Riaw Gatlier Gai, South Sudan's Deputy Minister of Interior said the protocol is beneficial to the young nation, but they still want to scrutinize it before accession because South Sudan is concerned with the high illiteracy rates among its population that could create labor imbalance.