Mexico: Incorporating migrants in prevention, preparedness, and emergency management

Evacuation of tourists after Hurricane Odile, 2014
  Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2017
By Sarai Londoño et al. , Department of Public Policies Analysis and Design for Disaster Prevention

In May 1986, after the 1985 Earthquake that seriously affected Mexico City, the National Civil Protection System was created to reinforce the coordination between the government and civil society organizations in disaster prevention and emergency management.

Mexico, a country highly exposed to natural and man-made phenomena, is also a world-class tourism destination. It holds the ninth place among the most visited countries in the world and in 2015, the country registered more than 32 million international tourists. Since many areas at risk of disaster are also touristic zones, the country faces a great challenge in terms of protecting migrants in crisis situations.

Mexico is also a major country of transit for Central American and extra-regional migrants directed to the USA, and increasingly a country of destination of migrant workers, who tend to concentrate in border provinces, large urban areas and major touristic destinations on the coasts. Migrants, whether regular or irregular, are highly vulnerable in the face of emergency, disaster or risk, due to factors such as immigration status, differences in language and culture, access to identity documents and limited social ties.

The General Law on Civil Protection, which is the regulatory instrument that establishes the coordination among the three main branches of the government in matters of Civil Protection, considers, in its Article 21 the attention to vulnerable social groups within risk management actions as a priority. The law also mandates the authorities to establish suitable mechanisms for the society to participate in the planning of Civil Protection.

The close inter-institutional collaboration on Civil Protection is also made visible through the General Law on Tourism, which confers to the Secretary of Tourism the participation in prevention and emergency and disaster management programs, as well as actions for risk management, in accordance with the Civil Protection policies and programs established for that purpose.

When Hurricane Odile passed through the tourist zone of Los Cabos, Baja California Sur in 2014, affecting 26,000 foreign tourists and 4,000 Mexican tourists who stayed in hotels converted into temporary shelters, this inter-institutional cooperation came into play. In order to respond to the emergency, the National Civil Protection Coordination of the Secretary of the Interior activated the National Civil Protection Committee of Emergencies and Disasters, joined by federal agencies and civil organizations. Almost simultaneously, the Secretary of the Interior, through its General Direction for Risk Management, issued an extraordinary emergency declaration while its General Direction of Civil Protection deployed Liaison Missions to the affected municipalities, with the purpose of coordinating the assistance to the population in need.

In the response to hurricane Odile, the evacuation of the thousands of tourists was one of the priorities. The Government of Mexico, through the Secretariats of the Interior, National Defense, Marine, Tourism and Communications and Transport, established an airlift to counteract the damages suffered by roads and infrastructure. Armed Forces aircrafts and commercial airlines transferred, at various points and free of charge, affected Mexican and foreign visitors from Los Cabos and La Paz airports. In addition, officials from the Secretary of Communications and Transportation and the Secretary of Tourism moved to Baja California Sur to coordinate the departure of national and foreign tourists affected by the hurricane. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs, in coordination with the General Director of Civil Protection, received consular officials in La Paz in order to analyze the actions to be taken to support the departure of tourists from affected areas. In total, 32,000 international and national migrants were evacuated.

The most recent initiative to reduce the vulnerability of migrants to disasters is the capacity building program implemented in Mexico in the framework of the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Initiative. Aware of the specific needs of foreigners and migrants as it comes to disaster prevention and management, the Mexican National Center for Disasters Prevention (CENAPRED) and the Grupos BETA, specialized body of the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) entirely dedicated to providing assistance to and protecting migrants at risk, joined this program.

CENAPRED and the Grupos BETA participated, as trainers, in the workshop Including migrants in disaster, prevention, preparedness and response, which took place in the cities of Tapachula, Tijuana and Mexico City in 2016 and was addressed to officials from different government departments and civil society organizations. The involvement of different stakeholders contributed to an improved understanding of roles and responsibilities of local actors, and in particular allowed for improved coordination among Grupos BETA and Civil Protection, as well as of Mexican authorities and consular corps of the migrants’ countries of origin.

The initiative is also proposing the development of a protocol for cooperation among relevant institutions (Mexican agencies, civil society actors, migrants’ home country institutions), to improve the migrants assistance in emergency, disaster or risk. In collaboration with IOM, CENAPRED is also developing a set of awareness materials to educate migrants on the risks to face in Mexico, available options for assistance and recommended measures to minimize risks and prepare for potential emergencies or disasters.

These interventions are a testimony of the Mexican Government’s commitments to protect migrants’ human rights, and work toward advancing risk management policy, by ensuring that migrants’ needs and presence are properly addressed.

B.Sc. Sarai Cruz Londoño, Head of the Department of Public Policies Analysis and Design for Disaster Prevention

M.Sc. Tania Patricia Ramírez Gutiérrez, Deputy Director of Public Policies Coordination, Evaluation and Design for Disaster Prevention

B.Sc. Daniel González Hernández, Liaison Officer of Public Policies Coordination, Evaluation and Design for Disaster Prevention