by Sue Le Mesurier, Manager of the IFRC Migration Unit, at Asia Pacific Migration Workshop (Bangkok, 30 November – 1 December 2012)
Last month the World Disasters Report, which this year highlights the plight of forced migrants, was launched all over the world. This is the 20th issue and over the past decades it has covered topics such as ethics in aid, neglected crises, public health, HIV and AIDS and urban risk.
Migration is a growing phenomenon that affects every country. Whilst many migrants move voluntarily, others do not have a choice. More and more people are forced to flee their homes and communities displaced by conflict, political upheaval, violence, disasters and other drivers, such as climate change and development projects.
I have been working in the area of refugees, migration and protection for over 20 years in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Having heard so many heartbreaking stories and having seen first hand the detrimental impact of forced migration on people and their families, I am very pleased that this subject has been chosen as the focus of the WDR this year and I would like to call upon all of you to raise more awareness about this issue and highlight the plight of the 72 million forced migrants around the world. Forced migration is now a global phenomenon and presents new and ever changing challenges for governments, humanitarians and host communities.
As we speak, millions of people are struggling to adapt to life in foreign countries and thousands are making the difficult decision to leave their homes in a bid for a safer, healthier and more prosperous lives. As this year's WDR report highlights, many migrants arrive in their new destinations in a terrible state of distress.
A key point mentioned in the report is the critical importance of ensuring migrants have access to healthcare in host countries. We often see very high mortality rates of refugees and displaced people. Camps of course constitute a particular risk to health, with cramped conditions and poor sanitation often leading to the spread of disease. But in urban environments, many people forced to relocate find themselves excluded from the mainstream health systems and lack access to basic healthcare and medical services. People who have fled their countries are more vulnerable and governments need to be better prepared to assist. Women and children can be especially vulnerable and with this report, we are calling upon governments in host countries to enact better policies and legislation in order to protect these migrants.
Another issue of particular concern for me is protection. How can we keep migrants safe both during their often perilous journeys away from their home countries and in host communities amongst which they live? We have all heard the terrible stories of migrants fleeing the turmoil in North Africa. Protection, and upholding the dignity and safety of all migrants, especially at international borders must be a key element of any response to forced migration. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has thereby called upon States in line with international law and national legislation, to grant migrants international protection and to ensure access to life saving humanitarian services.
Once settled in their new countries, many migrants often find themselves the subject of prejudice and discrimination from the local community and from local authorities. Local residents sometimes view migrants as potential competition and a drain on scarce resources, and adopt a hostile xenophobic approach. The Movement is working globally to promote a culture of tolerance and non-violence and ensuring migrants are treated with respect and dignity in our societies but there is still a lot more work to done.
Finally, I would like to underline the importance for our National Societies to have access to migrants in need of our help. All migrants are human beings who possess fundamental human rights and freedoms that are universally acknowledged in international law. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement must therefore be able to, with State support, enjoy effective and safe access to all migrants without discrimination and irrespective of their legal status.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the fact that forced migration is a growing phenomenon and something which is affecting all of us as time goes on and as the world continues to experience periods of economic and social turmoil. We therefore need to adapt to the new reality, find innovative long term solutions and make sure we do not fail our brothers and sisters in their hour of need.