California’s emergency preparedness efforts for culturally diverse communities
During the 2007 Southern California wildfires, racial and ethnic minorities suffered disproportionately adverse outcomes. This report examines emergency preparedness efforts targeting culturally diverse communities in California. The purpose is to identify barriers and policy gaps and propose strategies to better integrate culturally diverse communities into emergency preparedness activities. While this report explicitly focuses on California, the methodological framework is intended to be relevant to other states and regions interested in conducting similar analyses for their diverse communities.
To protect migrants when conflicts or natural disasters erupt, States, private sector actors, international organizations, and civil society need information about migrant populations. Aggregated data on the municipal, national, regional, and international scale of migration and the demographics of migrants, such as gender, age, and nationality, enable stakeholders to understand the nature and scope of needs in the case of a crisis. Local-level migrant community profiles help stakeholders target responses. Some stakeholders collect detailed information on the location of migrants, how to contact individual migrants, emergency and family contacts, and specific vulnerability and needs. Recruitment and placement agencies collect information on the location and situation of labor migrants they deploy to other States and can be a useful source of information.
Migrants play a key role in sharing and updating their information to enable stakeholders to contact and assist them in the event of a conflict or natural disaster. That said, migrants in an irregular immigration status in particular may have reservations about putting themselves at risk by becoming more ‘visible’ and sharing contact and other information with stakeholders, especially State authorities. Such migrants are also more likely to be highly mobile and move from one temporary residence to another. Efforts to collect and share aggregated information on migrants in an irregular situation should address these barriers. Engaging civil society can help mitigate such challenges.
In cases where States, private sector actors, international organizations, and civil society collect personal data, they should respect privacy rights and confidentiality with a view to ensuring the safety and security of the migrants (and where relevant, other stakeholders) on whom they collect and share information. In collecting and handling information containing migrants’ personal details, stakeholders need to act in accordance with applicable law and standards on individual data protection and privacy. Stakeholders should also ensure informed consent. Stakeholders can adopt clear guidelines that define the type of personal data to be collected and the ways in which such data will be handled, including circumstances in which data can be shared.
- Registration systems for citizens abroad that enable States of origin (or family, community, or civil society, where practical and appropriate) to contact migrants in the event of a crisis and provide them with information on the crisis and available assistance.
- Measures to encourage citizens to register, such as user-friendly, online registration systems that highlight the benefits and services that become available through registration.
- Host State registration systems to collect information on migrants upon arrival.
- Aggregated data and research on migration trends and demographics, including the purpose and routes of migration and nature and characteristics of migrants.
- Information on migrant community profiles, migrant networks, and focal points.
- Databases of migrant workers that include information on accompanying family members.
States and other stakeholders have laws, policies, and programs on prevention, preparedness, and emergency response to reduce the impact of crises. Taking into account the presence of migrants, their vulnerabilities, and their potential needs in prevention, preparedness, and emergency response frameworks, including on disaster risk reduction (DRR), can promote resilience in the event of a conflict or natural disaster. Clear laws and policies on migrants’ eligibility for different types of assistance in the event of a crisis promote certainty. If the presence of migrants is not known or is inadequately incorporated in planning, stakeholders may overlook migrants in their responses. If stakeholders fail to appreciate factors that make migrants vulnerable, such as language barriers, isolated working conditions, irregular immigration status, or mistrust of authorities, responses may be ineffective. When laws and policies are unclear, responses towards migrants can be unpredictable and insufficient.
Migrants themselves and civil society may be in the best position to assist States and other stakeholders to appreciate the presence of migrants, their vulnerability, and needs. In this respect, involving migrants and civil society in the development of prevention, preparedness, and emergency response measures can be helpful. Such actions also build trust between migrant populations and State and non-State actors who provide protection.
Migrants and civil society also have capacities and resources that they can contribute to preparedness and emergency response. Their language abilities, first-hand knowledge of migrant populations, understanding of cultural norms within their communities, and ability to foster greater trust toward State authorities and other actors can be leveraged to create more comprehensive and effective systems and programs.
- Platforms to facilitate the engagement of migrants in the design and implementation of prevention, preparedness, and emergency response systems.
- Taking migrants into account in national and local frameworks on prevention, preparedness, and emergency response, including by recognizing migrants as a specific group with needs and capacities.
- Recruitment of migrants as staff or volunteers in prevention, preparedness, and emergency response mechanisms.
Limited resources, funding, and technical skills can all affect the robustness of emergency and post-crisis responses. Understanding and assessing these limitations is a critical first step towards overcoming them. Stakeholders’ investment in their own capacity to improve emergency response and post-crisis recovery for migrants is critical.
Capacity building may relate to such varied areas as consular services, training for responders, resource allocation, funding mechanisms, insurance schemes, relief goods and services, border and migration management, and relocation and evacuation. Many of these areas are relevant for both the emergency and post-crisis phases. Stakeholders should also consider addressing potential reintegration challenges for migrants, their families, and communities, facilitating re-employment, income generation, and safe remigration, and supporting migrants to access outstanding wages, assets, and property left in host States.
States, private sector actors, international organizations, and civil society should assist one another to build and improve their capacity to respond. Undertaking advocacy, monitoring and evaluations, raising awareness, conducting training, sharing information, building research and knowledge, and supporting and learning from each other all help to improve collective efforts to protect migrants.
- Training and capacity building of stakeholders, such as on effective ways to access migrants and identify vulnerability and needs.
- Dedicated funding to protect migrants, including budget lines, loans, and funding platforms.
- Referral mechanisms that map rosters of experts who can address diverse needs of different migrants.
- Peer-to-peer exchanges for capacity building and learning on tackling challenges associated with protecting migrants.
- Training for consular officials, such as on collecting information on citizens and crisis management, including evacuation.
- Monitoring and evaluation of crisis responses that includes analysis of responses towards migrants.
Interventions should also address the impact on communities in the State of origin to which migrants return, host States from which migrants have fled, or States of transit to which migrants flee. Such communities may lack sufficient resources, services, and infrastructure to support migrants. If migrants receive assistance to the exclusion of members of host communities, perceptions relating to preferential treatment may create or exacerbate tensions and lead to discrimination, stigmatization, or social exclusion. An approach to post-crisis action that incorporates the needs of host communities is more likely to be successful than one that solely targets migrants and their families. Such an inclusive approach can foster community and social cohesiveness and stability in the long-term. This may be particularly important if migrants and their host communities continue to deal with the effects of crises years after they end.
The mass return of migrants to States of origin if not properly managed can also lead to adverse development impacts, including the loss of remittances, unemployment and underemployment, pressure on infrastructure, resources, services (including water, electricity, waste management, education, health, housing, and transportation), and increased poverty, all of which can cause broader societal tensions. Similarly, when large groups of migrants are evacuated or leave a host State in haste, their departure may create skill and labor shortages in host States. While migrants also contribute to States of transit, if they remain for unanticipated extended periods of time without effective integration, their presence may burden local infrastructure and services.
Effectively managing migration is important in the wake of a natural disaster or conflict. Host States may want to encourage migrants to return as soon as possible to aid in reconstruction or stimulate the local economy, and towards this end may create flexible visa options to promote migrant return to host States. States of origin may see value in facilitating diaspora engagement in post-crisis action and recovery.
- Analysis of short, medium-, and longer-term socio-economic impacts of return following crises, at the local and national levels in States of origin and host States.
- Promotion of diaspora contributions through actions, such as matching grants and customs waivers to facilitate financial and in-kind support.
- Inclusion of returned migrants’ needs in State of origin development plans.
- Engagement of and support to host populations through consultations and inclusive responses.
- Social cohesion programs addressing migrants, migrant networks, and host communities to prevent and mitigate tensions and foster reintegration.