Jean Patrice Koe Jr is the Assistant Director in charge of Relations with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) of the Department of Cameroonians abroad, Foreigners in Cameroon, Refugees and Migratory Issues at the Ministry of External Relations of Cameroon and the Department of Cameroonians Abroad. His portfolio deals specifically with issues related to the inclusion of forcibly displaced persons in governmental programmes with the support of the private sector, donors and development partners, and the monitoring of mixed migration and the reintegration of Cameroonian migrants returning voluntarily.
The issue of migration is a personal one for him as he was born in Nigeria, raised in different countries, and has spent most of his life abroad. He can relate to the issue of returning home upon spending some years in a foreign land.
Migration in Cameroon – the government can’t do it alone
Jean Patrice Koe: Migration is a phenomenon that is not new to Cameroon and to Africa in general. Migration has always been there. Even though 80 per cent of African migration flows within Africa, a crisis occurred in 2015 as a result of multiple causes with a surge of our country mates trying to leave for Europe.
During the crisis in 2015, images of Africans citizens trapped in jails in Libya were displayed all over the world. How did this affect Cameroon? The issue was raised, and the international community was to take a stance. Subsequently, the Global Compact for Migration recalled that migration is not a negative phenomenon, but that it has to be done in an orderly way: it has to be safe, it has to be regular.
The crisis - even though migration has been a phenomenon in Cameroon for a long time – the government, and the Ministry of External Relations in particular, had to deepen its processes in dealing with this issue, and to formalize the commitments. But it also highlighted that there was a need for more coordination when dealing with the issue of migration, and to increase cooperation with international partners like IOM.
In December 2016, IOM and the European Union launched the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegrationto support African countries in responding to the urgent protection needs and tragic loss of life of migrants along the Central Mediterranean migration routes and in strengthening migration governance.
At the time, the Director General of IOM, William Lacy Swing, outlined “our shared vision of a world in which migrants move as a matter of genuine choice and not desperation, in which their rights are protected, and in which migration is well governed so it is a positive force for sustainable and inclusive development around the globe."
Between the launch of the programme and September 2022, IOM has welcomed almost 5,000 migrants who returned to their native Cameroon.
Jean Patrice Koe: IOM supports the Cameroonian government in its governance policy on migration through the implementation of its programmes. We are hailing this partnership with IOM concretely. In Cameroon, the government is working on a formal national migration policy, and as such the issue of migration is currently being managed by different ministerial departments. The coordination and the drafting of such a national paper will enhance a coordinated action of these different ministerial departments.
We're very happy that we have the support of the IOM where we have set a steering committee. The EU-IOM Joint initiative contributes to the strengthening of migration management and governance, but also ensures in what it entails; it ensures the repatriation and reintegration of irregular migrants in our country. This is an example of how migration could be dealt with in a centred manner. The implementation of such actions will enable the creation of a platform where the relevant bodies (external relations, territorial administration, social affairs, national employment fund, health, police, etc.) will better coordinate and enhance the capacity building in managing migration.
One of our key challenges is sensitization and information. For us here in Cameroon, it's about sensitization and about information. It’s all about the popularization of the Global Compact for Migration, and the challenges of taking migration into account in national but also local policies, programmes and strategies. This should be done in line with national priorities, in an inclusive and coherent manner. The second challenge is that we have is that we have a lack of data, on the causes and effects of migration, how many people left, when, and how many came back.
We also have an issue of financing and mobilizing international actors. Indeed, it is urgent that the migration theme is no longer managed in silos but that interactions with development sectors are carefully analyzed.
With these challenges in mind, we are working towards solutions and commitments, including the development of a National Migration Policy, the operationalization of monitoring sectoral actions in the management of migration flows in Cameroon, as well as the further operationalization of the link between development, humanitarian aid and peace in Cameroon. We continue the fight against trafficking in persons by increasing the coordination and sharing of information for to facilitate the prosecution of traffickers and migrant smugglers in Cameroon.
Collaborating with partners, the way we work with the IOM and others, helps developing policy papers when it comes to migration. Take Cameroon’s Decentralization Policy, which aims to bring the accountable government closer to the community it serves. We have recently implemented community stabilization programmes, and established community dialogues for those most impacted by crisis in Cameroon; to prevent secondary movements and displacement, for example. These programmes community have the positive effect of promoting access to basic services as well as the construction of an inclusive society for full integration and social cohesion. And this goes in line with objectives 15 and 16 of the Pact.
In view of the positive impact of the Decentralization policy, it is necessary to recognize the efforts to make migration more of a choice than a necessity. Migration can be beneficial so that no one is left behind in the achievement of Cameroon's development objectives.