People on the move: the complexity of forced migration in today's world

Published: 20 November 2012

Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) Civil Society Days 2012 - WDR Side Event (Port Louis, Mauritius)
Statement delivered by Sue Le Mesurier, Manager Migration Unit
20 Novemver 2012


Dear Chair, members of the panel distinguished friends.

First of all I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers for the opportunity to speak about IFRC’s work to address the humanitarian needs of migrants globally.

On Tuesday this week, one of our flagship publications - 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 with IFRC, ICRC, British Red Cross and UN agencies such as UNHCR. I have worked with migrants and refugees in a number of countries 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 so many migrants around the world. Forced migration is now a global phenomenon and presents new and ever changing challenges for governments, humanitarians and the 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 a more prosperous life. As this year's WDR report highlights, many of these migrants arrive in their new destinations in a terrible state of distress. Children, especially those separated from their parents, are often extremely traumatised after experiencing conflict, disasters and extreme hardship.

It is therefore crucial, that governments and host communities are on hand to provide better psychosocial support and counselling services. This kind of assistance is a key activity for many of the Red Cross Red Crescent Organisations, particularly in countries which border countries afflicted by war, conflict and natural disasters.

Another key point mentioned in the report is the absolute critical importance of ensuring migrants have access to healthcare services in the host countries. We often see very high mortality rates of refugees and displaced people. Refugee 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 country are weaker and more vulnerable and governments need to be better prepared for that. Women and children can be especially vulnerable and with this report, we are calling upon governments in host countries to enact better policies and stricter legislation in order to protect migrant communities who are extremely vulnerable.

According to the WDR the mainstreaming of access to health services [for migrants] is a key indicator of migrants’ integration in their new country. 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 the host communities amongst which they live? We have all heard the terrible stories of migrants fleeing the turmoil in North Africa. Just last week, a further 166 people were rescued from a
wooden boat off the now infamous island of Lampedusa. 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 calling upon States in line with relevant international law and national legislation, to grant migrants appropriate international protection and to ensure their 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 thus can adopt a hostile xenophobic approach. The Red Cross Red Crescent 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 also like to underline the importance for governments to allow the Red Cross Red Crescent access to migrant who need our help. All migrants are human beings who possess fundamental and inalienable human rights and freedoms that are universally acknowledged in international instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Red Cross and Red Crescenet 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 the world continues to experience periods of economic and social turmoil. We therefore need to adapt to the new reality and find long term solution and make sure we do not fail people, our brothers and sisters, in their hour of need.

Thank you.