What solutions for individual migrants stranded in transit and destination countries?

Published: 21 November 2012

Migration and Development: Common Ground and Partnerships in Action
Session: 2: Common ground and partnerships to protect migrants in distress
What solutions for individual migrants stranded in transit and destination countries?
Delivered by Sue Le Mesurier, Manager Migration Unit, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for giving IFRC this opportunity to contribute to the Common Space discussions during the 2012 Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD) here in Mauritius.

I wish to start today by posing four critical questions surrounding the situation of stranded migrants which in the course of this Session I hope we will be able to address.

1. How are responsibilties for the protection of stranded migrants divided over the various actors? – is it the competence of the Government in the country of origin or country of destination and what is expected from the private sector, family or the individual?
2. How could current international and national legal frameworks best be improved in their implementation levels to increase efficiency and reduce protection gaps on behalf of stranded migrants?.
3. Should our international and national response mechanisms for stranded migrants cover the same responsibilities in responding to needs or should a distinction be made between crisis and non crisis situations?
4. There Is a need for a more inclusive human approach in migration responses, based on identified needs and addressing the ever increasing complex migration flows and the imperative for protection irrespective of their legal status. What process would you consider the most appropriate and who is responsible?

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has a long history of working with migrants who become stranded for a complex range of reasons. Our global network of 187 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies are often at the forefront of humanitarian action related to migration and National Societies all around the world are, every day, assisting vulnerable migrants who are in need of assistance and protection, regardless of their legal status.

Today I have been invited to address the particular concerns of migrants who may be stranded in transit and destination countries sometimes for protracted periods of time and I would like to do this by sharing some examples of the RCRC Movement‟s work in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

There have been numerous attempts to define "stranded migrants" but the following quote from a UNHCR Working Paper may be helpful "those who leave their own country..." and become destitute and/ or in some cases vulnerable to human rights abuses in the course of their journey. With some possible exceptions, they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin, are unable to regularize their status in the country where they are ....and do not have access to legal migration opportunities that would enable them to move on to another state.

Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies provide essential protection and assistance to stranded migrants in numerous contexts. In many cases migrants may be stranded in crisis situations, due to ongoing conflict, political upheaval, or natural disasters, which in some cases lead to situations of protracted displacement. Stranded migrants could include also stateless migrants, migrants deemed irregular by public authorities, migrants displaced within their own country and refugees and asylum seekers.

Our aim in all situations is to ensure that the individual needs of migrants are recognized and addressed, without discrimination and irrespective of their legal status. Concretely, National Societies carry out a range of activities, which include the provision of humanitarian assistance, protection activities, advocacy with government and host communities, and integration and reintegration activities to address issues such as social inclusion.

i) Crisis situations
Today, more than 20 million people are trapped in a state of “protracted displacement” – living in camps or in unplanned and informal parts of cities, typically unable to work, unable to access even basic social services and often with little access to international protection.

National Societies in the Middle East and North Africa region, and in particular in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, have provided immediate assistance to those affected by and fleeing the civil unrest in these countries. The response of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement included providing urgent humanitarian assistance including Restoring Family Links (RFL) services, visiting detainees and provision of protection-related services.

In Tunisia, the IFRC, together with the Tunisian Red Crescent, set up the Al Hayet Transit Camp in partnership with UNHCR. Services such as registration, relief distribution, health care, and psychosocial support were provided to migrants fleeing Libya. Currently there are more than 3,000 migrants still stranded in this camp.

In Libya, Red Crescent staff organized distribution of relief received by the wider Movement. With assistance from other agencies, such as IOM, they facilitated people contacting family members through phone calls, and assisted them with travel arrangements within and outside Libya, including transport to the Libyan border, transfer of belongings, and facilitation of travel procedures with the authorities. The Red Crescent camp in Benghazi, sheltered around 75,000 people over a period of ten months, including migrants from Somalia, Romania, Chad, Sudan and Bangladesh. Even today the international community is continuing to identify solutions for migrants still trapped within Libya.

In addition, IFRC and member National Societies are well-known for providing emergency relief in disaster situations and emergency assistance has been provided to migrants stranded after a natural disaster. The coordination and provision of relief to stranded migrants by the Haitian and Dominican Republic Red Cross Societies after the 2010 earthquake, the Thai Red Cross after 2011 floods, and Japanese Red Cross after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 are recent examples. The Thai Red Cross specifically worked closely with local community organisation to identify irregular and undocumented migrants who were not receiving assistance distributed by Government agencies due to their invisibility‟ in their communities.

Often emergency assistance is readily available following a natural disaster to nationals of the country but for complex reasons (language, access, discrimination, culture) is not always easily accessed by migrants, especially undocumented migrants, within the affected community.

ii) Non-crisis situations
The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement also work with both individuals and groups of migrants in non-crisis situations which are a result of social, economic, and other factors, and which lead to migrants being stranded in situations from which they are not able to escape from. It is extremely difficult to put these situations into categories, but it is worthwhile providing an overview.
Specific areas where IFRC is providing assistance to individual migrants who find themselves stranded includes working with victims of trafficking, smuggled migrants and migrants in reception and detention facilities.

For example, the Australian Red Cross runs the “Support Programme for Victims of Trafficking” and provides accommodation, financial assistance and access to legal advice for trafficked people stranded‟ in Australia. Support also encompasses integration and life skills for those who remain in Australia.

In addition, National Societies at the borders of Europe, for example, in Spain, Italy, Malta, Turkey and Greece provide essential relief, health care and psychosocial support to migrants that find themselves stranded with little or no means to return or legal right to remain or move to another country.

Migrants can be individually stranded for a number of other less visible reasons. These include the removal of travel documents by an employer when arriving to the country of destination, loss of citizenship or removal of travel documents after marriage, loss or destruction of travel documents and inability to acquire new ones.

The Korean Red Cross is running, for example, a programme for women that have immigrated to Korea to marry and provides psychological support and counselling to women who find themselves stranded.

They have left their husbands and due to a loss of citizenship on marriage, have difficulties returning to Vietnam.

The Norwegian Red Cross has created a “Forced Marriage Hotline” since April 2000. The anonymity of the person calling is preserved and employees have a duty of confidentiality. If the migrant requires assistance beyond the phone conversation, Red Cross employees will, with the person‟s consent, help refer the case to public support agencies.

The Indonesian Red Cross has a pilot project to support protection of Indonesian domestic workers in Middle Eastern countries. The project aims to reach domestic workers that experience problems at the hands of recruitment agencies and employers and find themselves often without travel documents and stranded. The project is currently conducted between the Indonesian Red Cross, Jordanian Red Crescent and the Indonesian Embassy in Jordan.

More RCRC National Societies are now discussing with their Government Immigration and Consular Services on the protection of individual labour migrants who have become stranded through provision of information in the migrants native language, establishment of help lines, and RCRC staff seconded to work in consular offices overseas.

These examples of Red Cross Red Crescent responses to stranded migrants in distress highlight the increasingly complex humanitarian and protection needs of migrants in both transit and destination countries.

Further reflection on how to address these challenges in a time of fiscal constraints, and ultimately how to work together to better ensure that stranded migrants receive the humanitarian assistance and protection they need, regardless of their legal status requires a new approach.

I wish to remind participants of the migration resolution adopted at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 2011, which brings together State Parties to the Geneva Conventions and components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The resolution expresses concern about the often alarming humanitarian situation of migrants in situations of distress and vulnerability, at all stages of their journey, and the ongoing risks that migrants face in regards to their dignity, safety, and access to international protection. The resolution calls for governments to ensure that all migrants (including stranded migrants), irrespective of their legal status, have access to the assistance and protection they need and are treated at all times with respect and dignity.

Finally, I am honoured to be part of this meeting and assure you that IFRC will remain committed to creating a stronger and wider consensus on humanitarian response to migration and continue to support ongoing collaborative approach with the GFMD, Global Migration Group and other actors in the lead up to the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in 2013.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman