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Forced Migration Review: Responding to Humanitarian Crises and Developing Global Standards

Swat Valley_PakistanThe February 2014 issue of Forced Migration Review (FMR), a product of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, is packed full of interesting articles exploring the nuances of migration, and “trapped” populations in context of humanitarian crises. Work done with the Crisis Migration Project in Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM) was also the basis for several of the articles in this issue.  Many of the articles look specifically at environmental disasters, droughts and food security questions, as well as mobility and resiliency.  A few articles in the FMR pay especial attention to climate change-related risks. Those include:

Choice and necessity: relocations in the Arctic and South Pacific, Robin Bronen
Relocation – whereby livelihoods, housing and public infrastructure are reconstructed in another location – may be the best adaptation response for communities whose current location becomes uninhabitable or is vulnerable to future climate-induced threats.

Illegal migration in the Indian Sunderbans, Sahana Bose
It is expected that due to sea-level rises in the future many millions of Bangladeshis will flee to India, exacerbating further the ongoing disputes between India and Bangladesh. Human security will be the most important agenda item for Indian-Bangladeshi relations in the coming decades.

Environmental stress, displacement and the challenge of rights protection, Roger Zetter and James Morrissey
Examination of migration histories and current politics in Kenya, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Ghana sheds light on how rights are articulated for groups and individuals displaced in a context of environmental stress and climate change. Both migration and rights are sensitive issues in these case-study countries, and the conjunction of the two is especially sensitive.

Almost daily, there is a news article on how climate change will bring war and increased migration. This makes for good headlines, but important details (and accuracy) is often lost in the process. The articles in the FMR, both this issue and previous issues, do an important service to the field by delving into patterns on the ground that will likely be a major part of a future with increasing migrants and “trapped” populations. We know that migrations will likely increase in a world of growing populations, stressed resources and a changing climate. As such, it is vital to act now to develop practices that increase the mobility opportunities for migrants, and mitigate risks.

Peter D. Sutherland, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration and Development, made this point succinctly in the forward to this issue:

Migrants in such crisis situations are affected by the absence or inadequate implementation of norms, obligations and standards, notably those relating to human rights and humanitarian law. Operational gaps – or lack of coherence and resources – compound the negative effects of crises on migrants. Efforts by governments, international organisations and NGOs to redress these shortcomings are far too limited. Yet when it comes to protecting migrants’ well-being and rights, smart practices abound. There are many practices that can and should become global standards.

He continues:

We need not be overwhelmed by the dizzying array of problems plaguing migrants. Disaggregated into its component elements, an issue like migration resolves itself into choices which are fundamentally moral in character, and not simply the preserve of specialists, economists or sociologists, much though we have to learn from their research and guidance. With small groups of states, experts, international organisations and civil society working together with the necessary resolve to pilot solutions that might become global practices – a model that could also be applied to other international problems – we can address the challenges facing migrants one by one.


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