Guidelines to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disaster
Background to the Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative When conflicts or natural disasters erupt, they can disproportionately affect migrants living, working, studying, traveling, or transiting in the country experiencing the crisis. The earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan (2011), the floods in Thailand (2011), hurricane Sandy in the United States (2012), and the outbreak of conflicts in the Central African Republic and in Yemen in recent years are but a few examples of crises in which migrants were among those seriously affected. While they are resilient and resourceful, a variety of factors create particular vulnerability for migrants in the face of such crises. Language barriers, restrictions on mobility, irregular immigration status, confiscated or lost identity or travel documents, limited social networks, isolation, and attacks and discrimination are some of the factors that hinder the ability of migrants to access protection, move out of harm’s way, or otherwise ensure their own safety and wellbeing. The Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Initiative was conceived to address these challenges. Today, more people than ever before live in a country other than the one in which they were born. In 2015, the number of international migrants surpassed 244 million, growing at a rate faster than the world’s population. Many more are present temporarily. Most are in a regular immigration status while others may be in an irregular immigration situation. The majority work, study, or stay with their families. Some are in transit, on their way to other destinations. Some are on short-term business or leisure trips. Some are exploited as victims of trafficking, including in bonded labor, or in other abusive arrangements. Some are in detention. Some have fled natural disasters or violence in their State of origin. Others are nomadic, pastoralists, or indigenous populations who move across international borders as part of their traditional way of life. Migrants are present in almost all countries in the world. In 2015, nearly two thirds of all international migrants worldwide lived in Europe (76 million) or Asia (75 million). North America hosted the third largest number of international migrants (54 million), followed by Africa (21 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (9 million), and Oceania (8 million). Between 2000 and 2015, Asia and Oceania experienced the fastest average annual growth in numbers of migrants, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, and then Africa. No country is immune to conflicts or natural hazards. Recent and ongoing conflicts in Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, South Sudan, Syria, and elsewhere illustrate that such situations can affect countries at different stages along the development spectrum. Natural hazards can be even less predictable. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and the like result in disasters that indiscriminately wreak havoc in countries around the world, from the United States to Costa Rica, Philippines to Bangladesh, France to Tajikistan, Ethiopia to Kenya, and Australia to Fiji. International human rights belong to all persons, including migrants, and States have assumed obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill migrants’ human rights. But migrants in countries experiencing conflicts or natural disasters can be overlooked in responses. HostState actors and other responders do not always readily identify or understand migrants’ unique needs. Traditional humanitarian responses have not consistently provided migrants with effective access to help. Little guidance exists to clearly identify specific roles and responsibilities of States and other key actors to protect migrants in countries experiencing conflicts or natural disasters. In this context, such migrants can ‘fall between the cracks’. This gap is a concern for all countries. The Libyan uprising, which descended into conflict in 2011 and forced some 800,000 migrants to flee across international borders in a matter of months, was a watershed event, drawing widespread attention to this gap. It led to multiple calls for action by States, UN representatives, international organizations, and civil society to better address the protection of migrants in the context of conflicts or natural disasters. The MICIC Initiative was born of this momentum.