This week, I am attending the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Stockholm, Sweden. At this meeting we will roll out an international initiative, spearheaded by the United States, called Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC). The United States has just announced plans to provide more than $1.8 million dollars to support MICIC.
The need is clear. Protecting people threatened by violent conflicts and natural disasters is never simple. But assisting migrants can be especially challenging. The 2011 rebellion in Libya provided a glaring example of how vulnerable stranded foreigners can be. Rumors spread that migrants, especially those from sub-Saharan Africa, were actually mercenaries defending the Gaddafi regime. Migrant workers and their families had to flee not only bombs and street battles, but xenophobic attacks. The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration funded emergency evacuation and humanitarian assistance programs, carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), that helped more than half a million migrants escape to safety, return to their home countries, or resettle elsewhere.
In many crises, the main risk is that migrants will fall through the cracks. Undocumented migrants may not seek help for fear of being deported. First responders may rescue non-citizens but then not know whether they are eligible for hospital care or other services. Authorities in migrants’ home countries may want to help or evacuate them but may not know how to find them. Language can be a hurdle as well. Governments may send out text messages or news alerts when a cyclone or flood is coming, but migrants may not understand them. Displaced migrants also suffer long term consequences. Some have lived abroad for years, even generations, and must return to places where they have no jobs, homes, or relatives to help them.
In recent years, governments and international organizations have recognized these problems and responded. For example, during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, Japan’s government disseminated warnings in eleven languages. When Hurricane Sandy struck, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spread the word, through churches and immigrant rights groups, that undocumented migrants seeking help would not be deported. The Government of the Philippines educates its citizens before they go abroad about what to do in an emergency and urges them to form buddy systems and self-support networks to help in a crisis. The United States is also supporting a new emergency fund set up by the IOM. If a crisis displaces large numbers of migrants, this fund will help integrate them into the communities where they take refuge.
These kinds of preparations can fill gaps that put migrant’s lives and livelihoods at risk. And we think countries that have discovered effective solutions should share them. That is why the U.S. Government and the Government of the Philippines launched the MICIC Initiative and formed a working group, with Australia, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and the European Commission. We are collaborating closely with civil society groups, IOM, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The new US funding will staff an IOM MICIC Secretariat and help nations address pressing needs such as hazard assessment, contingency planning, consular services, community outreach and international coordination.
Our goal is to create a set of voluntary guidelines and best practices that governments, relief agencies, charities and international organizations will use. We believe this will give migrants a better shot at surviving and recovering from crises.
Follow @StatePRM on Twitter for more information about U.S. efforts to provide protection, ease suffering, and resolve the plight of persecuted and uprooted people around the world on behalf of the American people.