Including Migrants in Disaster Risk Reduction Efforts Must be a Priority

Activities to include migrants in the work of Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) © 2016 THW
  Date: Thursday, October 12, 2017
By Lorenzo Guadagno, UN Migration Agency Capacity Building Manager
With more than 250 million people living and working abroad, addressing migrants’ vulnerability is key to reducing the number of people affected by disasters.

Migrants are often among those who suffer the most in disasters, as we have witnessed many times in recent years. This can be the case because they might live and work in areas that are particularly at risk, like those who worked in industrial parks affected by the 2011 floods in Thailand. Sometimes it is because they don’t trust emergency responders and are afraid to seek help, like those who refused to evacuate from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina for fear of arrest and deportation. And other times, it is because they are not entitled to disaster assistance, like the many who were not adequately supported after Hurricane Sandy.

These factors and many more – limited awareness of local hazards, limited proficiency in the local language, limited local networks, and heightened exposure to abuses, exploitation and xenophobia – determine how they will be affected by natural and man-made hazards.

Migrants are of course not the only ones to suffer negative impacts, but they do encounter specific barriers that make them particularly vulnerable. Migration status and migration experiences, public perceptions regarding migration and migrants and the way in which host societies work to include them, all contribute to determining their access to essential services, housing and income opportunities, and participation in civic affairs – and thereby the levels of risk they face.

This is something that all countries need to consider: more than 250 million people live and work abroad today. They originate from every corner of the world and represent a sizable share of the population of close and distant cities and communities. They contribute to making the places in which they live more vibrant and prosperous. Protecting and leveraging migrants’ skills and resources makes their communities as a whole more resilient to disasters.

The Sendai Framework explicitly highlights this fact, recognizing the extent to which migrants’ knowledge and capacities are useful for disaster risk reduction, and calling for migrants to be included in the design and implementation of risk reduction work. Steps are already being taken to implement this provision. For instance, evidence is being collected on the specific impacts of disasters on migrants and their assets, and migration data is being used to inform risk assessments. Disaster risk management institutions are adapting their efforts to account for migrants’ presence, their specific needs and capacities. Specific recruitment programmes are being rolled out to encourage migrants to engage as staff or volunteers in disaster preparedness and response work. And disaster risk management mechanisms increasingly include organizations and groups that have specific reach in, and knowledge of, migrant communities. All these efforts can greatly reduce the impacts of disasters on migrants, but much remains to do, and in a more systematic manner, to address the specific drivers of risk migrants still face.

Most importantly, efforts to include migrants in disaster risk reduction will not succeed unless we also work to address the underlying obstacles that migrants around the world encounter in pursuing security and wellbeing in their everyday lives. As we head towards a future of sustained international mobility, the decisions we take on migration management, the way we articulate our discourse on migrants and the measures we take to include migrants in social policies and service provision will shape the disaster risk we will all be facing in the next years and decades.


Lorenzo Guadagno is managing the International Organization for Migration’s project on “Reducing the vulnerability of migrants in emergencies”. He has worked and published on Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation with the International Organization for Migration, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and several United Nations entities. He holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Sannio (Benevento, Italy).


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