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Recognising migrants in disaster risk reduction efforts

According to UNHCR, currently around 60 million people are displaced worldwide. This is the highest number of people since WWII, and this number includes both refugees as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced, or a refugee. They are forcibly displaced by conflict, violence, disasters, and human rights violations.

More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too (..)” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

Focusing on factors that endanger refugees and migrants, this topic is a complex one. By fleeing, people save their lives, but expose themselves to new risks. An example of this is the conflict in Syria. By fleeing the Syrian conflict, refugees expose themselves to new risks, ranging from overcrowded refugee shelters, to dangerous boats that cross the Mediterranean for high sums of money. Those who decide to stay at home do this because they are unable or unwilling to leave. Those unable to leave a disaster situation often lack financial means, making them doubly vulnerable: they are unable to flee a disaster-prone area and their household income cannot support them to move elsewhere. When taking a closer look at those who flee, albeit from conflict or natural disasters, it is important to understand their personal risks involved. Those who flee have limited access to information; usually they do not speak the language of the country in which they are displaced and they are unaware of local risks, known to the rest of the country.

The Sendai Framework
In March 2015, 187 States approved the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR). The SFDRR is a set of objectives, priorities, and principles, and serves as a guideline to reduce the impacts of hazards over the next 15 years. The SFDRR perceives human mobility and migration as a dynamic of disaster risk reduction. Migrants are often amongst the worst affected in disasters. They have usually fled a disaster-prone area to find themselves stuck in the next disaster-prone situation. After fleeing from disaster, migrants seek refuge in already rapidly growing urban centres where they take up shelter. These shelters are made up of unsafe houses and are on hazard prone sites, creating new hazards, perpetuating risk.

An important start in disaster risk reduction for migrants would be the inclusion of migrants in disaster risk management efforts. This would mean considering the needs and capacities of migrants when planning for disaster prevention actions, evacuations and recovery, and actively involving them in disaster risk management systems.

While the Sendai Framework is not legally binding, it does express priorities the international community agrees upon. When implemented accordingly, the SFDRR offers a global policy foundation for the future of humanitarian work.

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Rene Perey

Rene Perey