When conflicts or natural disasters erupt, they can disproportionately affect migrants living, working, 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.
Past experiences show that migrants often fall through the cracks of emergency prepardness, relief and recovery systems. Host-State actors 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. 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.
Calls for Action
The Libya crisis 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. Among those who drew attention to the importance of this issue was Sir Peter Sutherland, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for International Migration. Complementing this, the United States devoted its 2010-2011 chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum, and Refugees specifically to the theme of Humanitarian Responses to Crises with Migration Consequences.
Following the 2011 Libya crisis, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) dedicated its annual International Dialogue on Migration to migrants in crisis. IOM also developed a Migration Crisis Operational Framework (MCOF), which was endorsed by IOM’s Member States in 2012, in order to better coordinate humanitarian activities and migration management services to protect and assist migrants through the full cycle of crisis planning and preparedness, emergency response, and post-crisis reconstruction and recovery. Further attention has been brought to the needs of migrants in times of crisis by more recent efforts, such as the Nansen Initiative, which is focused on displacement of people across borders due to natural disasters.
As part of the growing recognition of the gravity and salience of these issues, in 2006 and 2013, the United Nations General Assembly convened High Level Dialogues on International Migration and Development (HLD). During the 2013 HLD, Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon stated in his opening remarks that:
“We need to address the plight of stranded migrants. Migrants are often caught in situations of conflict or natural disaster. My Special Representative, Peter Sutherland, who has championed this issue, has made a number of concrete recommendations for protecting migrants affected by such crises. I am pleased to note that the United States and the Philippines have offered to lead an initiative to create a framework that would articulate roles and responsibilities for all involved”.
Following these calls, in 2014, the Governments of the Philippines and the United States launched the MICIC Initiative to address the impact of crises—conflicts and natural disasters—on migrants. The MICIC Initiative's overarching goal was to improve the ability of States and other stakeholders to better prepare for, respond to, and protect the lives, dignity, and rights of migrants caught in countries experiencing conflicts and natural disasters. The Initiative successfully concluded in June 2016 with the release of the Guidelines to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflicts and Natural Disasters. The work to improve the situation of migrants in the context of crises continues through dissemination of the Guidelines, capacity building activities, research and development of operatonal tools.