British Foreign Services hotline in response to Indian Ocean Tsunami

Country: 
United Kingdom
Type of Stakeholder Implementing the Practice: 
State, State of Origin
Type of crisis: 
Natural Disaster
Crisis phase: 
Emergency Response

Description

In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, the British Foreign Service established a hotline facility as point of contact for those concerned about friends and relatives who may be caught in the affected areas. The emergency number was advertised widely on television and radio, in newspapers and on the Foreign Service website. Given the high volume of calls received, the London Metropolitan Police Service stepped in to handle some of the calls. Meanwhile, the British Embassy in Bangkok had set up already an incident centre and hotline, staffed with available officers, including consular staff, their spouses and family members as well as volunteers. Enquiries were mostly handled through the centre’s eight dedicated lines. 

 

Guidelines/Thematic Areas

GUIDELINE 1: Track information on conflicts and natural disasters, and potential impact on migrants

To protect migrants, States, private sector actors, international organizations, and civil society need to understand risks and exposure to crises in regions, countries, and localities. They also need to understand the ways in which crises can affect people, including migrants, and their assets. The period before the onset of a full-scale conflict or natural disaster is a critical time to undertake efforts to protect and assist people, including migrants, and to secure essential resources and infrastructure.

Not all conflicts and natural disasters are entirely unpredictable. Conflicts may be preceded by various signs, including protests, xenophobic violence, and civil unrest. Local actors, close to the source of an impending conflict, and with the experience to interpret signs and events, may often possess the most timely and accurate information. They can be an important source of knowledge for others.

Understanding regional, national, and local natural disaster risks and overlaying this information with information on the location and characteristics of migrants can inform preparation and response efforts. As in conflict situations, local sources of knowledge may also be important. While many natural disasters occur with great immediacy, different regions, countries, and localities are prone to specific types of natural disasters. Those related to weather events often occur with some forewarning. Some are cyclical and recurrent and the warning signs will be familiar to those who have experienced them before. A number of early warning systems exist to forecast and monitor natural disasters and alert stakeholders and communities of impending crises.

Sample Practices

  • Early warning systems for natural disasters adapted and tested to reach migrants in multiple languages.
  • Assessments to understand the potential effects of natural disasters on migrant communities and their assets.
  • Inclusion of migrant characteristics in disaster vulnerability assessments by analyzing how factors, such as immigration status, language proficiency, or gender reduce access to information, resources, or protection.
  • Community-based risk assessments that engage migrants in the identification of natural disasters, vulnerability, and capacities.
  • Inclusion of migrants’ presence and vulnerability in early warning and early action mechanisms.
  • Structures to share information on developing civil unrest or conflict.
GUIDELINE 9: Communicate widely, effectively, and often with migrants on evolving crises and how to access help

Multiple formal and informal communication systems should be activated once a conflict or natural disaster erupts. Migrants should receive information on the evolving nature of a crisis and on ways to access assistance. In addition, those affected by conflicts or natural disasters often have clear ideas about how to improve their safety and security in an emergency. They are an important source of information about risks, local needs, and gaps in protection.

Stakeholders can communicate information to and receive information from migrants and other stakeholders. Repeat messaging, using multiple channels, and different mediums (infographics, audio, and print) can help expand coverage. This is particularly important to reach migrants in an irregular immigration status, those working in isolated and remote conditions, and those who lack access to social and other networks. Communicating and engaging with a diverse representation of migrants, including with marginalized groups, improves needs assessment.

All stakeholders also benefit from timely information as crises evolve and new issues arise. In conflicts, for example, fighting may break out in new geographic areas and affect different migrant populations. In natural disasters, such as earthquakes, aftershocks may cause new damage. It is important to continue to assess these shifting patterns and adapt responses to changing needs.

Different stakeholders are often privy to unique information. Sharing information and knowledge on the evolution of crises and on available assistance can support efforts by all stakeholders to protect migrants and can mitigate confusion that might otherwise arise. For example, some States may obtain information on particular aspects of conflicts or natural disasters helpful to informing actions by other stakeholders, including humanitarian actors. Stakeholders may find value in developing consistent messaging on risks and status updates during crises.

Sample Practices

  • Regular crisis updates and information on where and how to access assistance through multiple communication channels in relevant languages.
  • 24-hour call centers with linguistically diverse and trained staff offering information and services.
  • Dedicated outreach through volunteers and grass-roots actors to disseminate information on risks, logistics, and assistance to those in an irregular immigration status or working in isolated conditions.
  • Migrant support centers to disseminate information to migrants.
  • Migrants as a source of information on local conditions, on sources of assistance, and challenges.
  • Briefings and situation updates by host State authorities.